State Starts to Consider New High School Test and Testing Contract

John Mooney | September 16, 2011 | Education
According to administration, negotiating and awarding contract will take better part of a year

Lofty rhetoric about the need to improve New Jersey’s high school tests aside, the Christie administration this week got down to a more mundane task: the advertising and awarding of its next testing contract.

The state’s current testing contract with Measurement Inc., a North Carolina-based company, expires after this school year. Measurement, which also holds the contracts for elementary and middle school, is paid $9 million a year to develop, distribute and score the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and its alternative and subject tests.

Looking to the 2012-2013 school year, administration officials said they have begun discussing what the next exam and contract could look like, and are about to start a public process to develop the requests for proposals (RFPs) for a new agreement.

Department spokesman Justin Barra said the RFP will likely be completed “in the coming months,” and it will take the better part of the school year to negotiate and award the final contract.

The next step, he said, will be the formation of an advisory committee of education leaders and other experts to discuss the kinds of skills and knowledge that should be expected of New Jersey’s high school graduates.

“Things will be moving rapidly,” Barra said of the process. “The initial conversations have been held, but internal discussions alone won’t address all this.”

“We don’t want to do this in isolation,” he said.

Talking up the effort, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf this week put out a few hints about the new high school test. Cerf is traveling with Gov. Chris Christie on a three-stop campaign to promote the governor’s education agenda.

Cerf said it could be a state-developed test like the HSPA, or even the national ACT college-entrance test, a benchmark used for Colorado students. He said he has not ruled out individual course exams like the Regents tests in New York state, where Cerf worked as a New York City deputy schools chancellor. New Jersey’s own experience with end-of-course tests has been mixed. The algebra test has been suspended for now, and the biology test continues but has been put off as a graduation requirement.

“I don’t know enough to make a recommendation, and that why I want to go out into the field to talk to people,” Cerf said on Monday at a Pennington event with the governor.

When pressed on any details decided or being considered, Barra yesterday said everything is up for discussion, including whether the next exam will even be immediately required for graduation or maybe field tested for a year. Passing the HSPA or its alternative is currently a graduation requirement in New Jersey, and neither Christie nor Cerf has given any indication that he would stop the requirement in the long term.

Editor’s note: The initial version of this story incorrectly reported that the state’s high school biology test has been suspended. The plan to use it as a requirement for graduation has been postponed, but the test itself continues to be administered.