Report’s Replete with Points to Consider About Testing of Garden State Students

John Mooney | January 25, 2016 | Education
Panel’s review of use of standardized exams stresses need to review goals of all student assessments and to not rush change

Lost in the drama over whether New Jersey would drop the Common Core State Standards was a second report from the Christie administration this month that raised a number of important points about state testing.

The final report from the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessment was the result of year-long effort by panel members from across the philosophical spectrum, ranging from the state chamber of commerce to two panelists nominated by the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union.

Some notable news from the report has already been aired, including its continued backing of the online PARCC exams and some recommendations for new high school graduation requirements starting in 2020.

But the report included close to 50 recommendations, including several calling for more effective communication about the value and purpose of the standardized assessments. It made clear that current lines of communication are not working.

While the report supported ongoing review of the Common Core, it also suggested that the state give districts ample time to adapt and not change too much at once.

For example, it recommended the state stick with its current science standards, which are not as high profile as the Common Core but equally significant , at least for science educators.

And it called on local school districts to be more open about their own testing outside the state-mandated exams in terms of what tests they give their students and why they are administered.

Here, verbatim, are10 key recommendations in the report:

No. 3: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE provide school districts with the time, support, professional learning, and communication necessary to accommodate any changes to the standards that might impact the school district’s planning, implementation, and decision making about curriculum, instruction, and/or instructional resources.

No. 5: The Study Commission fully supports the NJDOE’s efforts in the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and recommends that all education stakeholders support and promote the new science standards.

No. 14: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State educational associations and advocacy groups, develop and launch a proactive communication campaign throughout the State regarding: (a) the State’s role and responsibilities … ; (b) best practices in assessment of all student populations … ; and (c) what the NJDOE determines to be the most common, frequently occurring, and widespread misunderstandings and inaccuracies about educational standards and the use of student assessments in New Jersey’s public schools.

No. 20: The Study Commission recommends that school districts conduct a thorough inventory and analysis of their own student assessment systems …

The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE commission a comprehensive research study in which the information generated in the above recommendation is compiled and organized to obtain an understanding of the volume, frequency, and impact of testing within the Statewide K-12 environment ….

No. 22: Consistent with a school district’s vision, mission, goals, and objectives and to maximize transparency in testing, the Study Commission recommends that each school district engage its parents and community members in an ongoing conversation about the school district’s for student assessment. The conversation about the school district’s assessment plan should include which tests and assessment instruments will be administered to students … ; what purposes the tests will serve; how often they will be administered; how much time the implementation of the instruments (including preparation and practice time) will be expended; and how the results of the testing will be used to provide supports, enrichment, and advancement to students.

No. 26: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE require all students enrolled in public schools in grades 3 through 12 to take, as appropriate under federal law, the Statewide standardized assessment in English language arts, mathematics, and science as prescribed in State statute and the EOC assessment (i.e., Algebra I & II, geometry, and ELA 9, 10, and 11). The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE explicitly advise school districts and the general public that there will continue to be no Statewide standardized testing in kindergarten through grade 2.

No. 28: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with the members of the PARCC consortium, provide additional guidance to educators and parents of students with individualized education programs (IEPs) or 504 plans and students who are ELLs (English language learners) regarding the students’ participation in the State assessment system and the selection of appropriate accommodations and accessibility features.

No. 35: The Study Commission acknowledges that many school districts spent considerable time during 2014-2015 preparing students to become acclimated to the computerized format of the PARCC assessment… Consequently, the Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with members of the PARCC consortium, develop and communicate best practices in testing preparation to ensure students are technologically prepared to take the assessment, but the preparation time does not unduly distract from instructional time and the learning experience.

No. 39: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE encourage school districts to use the PARCC data, as they continue to be validated and better understood, as only one of several tools to improve teaching and learning. The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State education associations and advocacy groups, provide professional learning to educational practitioners, primarily principals and teachers, about how to analyze and use assessment data in program and curriculum planning.

No. 43: The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE communicate in a manner that is highly transparent and public and in terms easily understood by educational professionals and the general public how the educator evaluation system works, how evaluation data within the system are derived (i.e., how student growth is calculated), what the data mean, how summative evaluation ratings are computed, and how the summary data should be interpreted.