Administration Pushes Student-Testing Plan Ahead, Despite Opposition

John Mooney | October 1, 2019 | Education
Sen. Ruiz, head of Senate education committee, leaves no doubt about opinion, ‘I absolutely do not support these changes’
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)

The Murphy administration is moving ahead with its controversial plan to reconfigure the state’s student testing program — again — with the State Board of Education scheduled to vote on the latest version on Wednesday.

But not all the resistance has abated, with the latest coming from state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the influential chair of the state Senate’s education committee.

Long fighting efforts to weaken state testing, Ruiz said yesterday that she remained opposed to the administration’s plan on a number of grounds.

“I absolutely do not support these changes,” Ruiz said in an interview with NJ Spotlight.

“Instead of good education policy, the administration is trying to backstop a problem directed by the courts,” she said.

The senator, whose committee is a key checkpoint for any significant education policy in the state, was citing the state appellate court decision last December stopping the administration from removing an 11th grade exit test that has been required by law for more than 20 years.

Shuffling required tests

The administration’s latest plan would instead remove the 10th grade test for high school students in language arts and math, truncating the skills evaluation into an 11th grade test needed for graduation.

It would leave a testing regimen that spans the third through the ninth grade, and returns in the 11th grade. Students are currently tested in grades 3-11.

Ruiz said yesterday that the administration is only diluting the value of the tests with the latest moves.

“We realize why we have strategic tests in place,” she said. “Not to have a pass/fail for students but to have the ability to track them … We need measures in place where we can peel it back and look at where we need the resources and where we can make improvements.”

How much Ruiz can do about the administration’s plans is uncertain, and her opinion is hardly the majority concerning what has been one of the most contentious issues of the Murphy administration. State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet has said the plan is the best path forward, both providing the required testing and easing the long duration and high anxiety that has surrounded state testing for years, if not decades.

He met with stakeholders a week ago yesterday to further explain the plan and hear concerns. Several of those present said there was general support from those in attendance.

Too fast for state board?

The state board has yet to show its full hand, and at its last meeting, several of its members complained that the administration was rushing through the proposal and had only that week shown them any details.

Following what has surely been considerable behind-the-scenes persuasion since then, the action on Wednesday will be the board’s first and last public vote on the plan, with only a routine review process after that.

None of this resolves the decision about what these tests will look like going forward, as the administration has yet to make public its plans for the so-called next-generation assessment long promised by Repollet and Gov. Phil Murphy.

Repollet said that a request for proposals (RFP) from testing vendors would likely come by the end of the calendar year, although the administration said the same about the summer and then the fall.