New Jersey Gets Glimpse of the State Tests of Tomorrow

Students will be sitting for longer exams, and in front of computers or other electronic devices

As state testing begins this week across New Jersey, details went out to districts yesterday mapping out the future for exams — virtually all of it online and taking considerably more time.

The guidelines came out of the Partnerships for Assessment for College and Careers, or PARCC, the national coalition that is developing new annual assessments for 22 states, including New Jersey, starting in 2014-2015.

Many of the details were technical, but for the first time, PARCC detailed the number of tests that students will need to take over the course of the year and how much time they will consume.

For New Jersey, it will certainly be more testing than now, albeit in shorter spans spread over a longer period of time. Those tests began this week with the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment and will continue into May with the elementary and middle school exams.

Students in elementary school, for example, will take two sets of exams. One will be given three-quarters of the way through the school year and will chiefly test performance-based skills such as a research project or narrative writing. The other will come near the end of the year and will use short questions to test overall skills and knowledge.

All told, students would sit for nine different tests: five in language arts, four in math. And while duration has yet to be determined, state officials said it would be about eight hours over those nine sessions, compared with the five-and-a half-hours of testing now given over four mornings.

State officials stressed that while the hours are longer, the testing will be less intrusive and ultimately far more sophisticated in determining where children’s strengths and needs are.

“Because they are shorter sessions, they can be done within the schedule of a normal day,” said Bari Erlichson, an assistant education commissioner. “It is a much more flexible and individualized way of administering a test than we have today.”

And all of them will be online, with the new PARCC guidelines also spelling out the technology needs for each school, a touchy point for a lot of districts that contend they don’t have the capacity as yet.

One key development is that each school will be permitted to test half of a given class in the morning and half in the afternoon, which translates into fewer computers or other testing devices.

Erlichson said the information provided by PARCC yesterday, as well as the state’s own accompanying memo, should allow districts to better prepare for the new age of testing.

“There is a tremendous amount of specifics now available to school districts that wasn’t yesterday,” Erlichson said. “This was a major development day.”

PARCC also confirmed that students will no longer be rated on three tiers: “partially proficient,” “proficient,” and “advanced proficient.”

Instead, there will be five levels: “distinguished command,” “strong command,” “moderate command,” “partial command,” and “minimal command.”

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