Last-Minute Tweaks to Student-Testing Plan Enough to Persuade State Board Members?

John Mooney | October 21, 2019 | Education
Board of Education set for key vote today on the Murphy administration’s new — and revised — proposal for high school testing
Credit: Twenty20
The proposal would allow students to skip the exit test altogether to instead pursue a menu of alternative means of meeting graduation requirements.

In the lead-up to a rare special meeting of the State Board of Education today, quieter deliberations have continued over the Murphy administration’s hopes to streamline student testing in New Jersey’s high schools.

And it looks like geometry may be back in the mix for inclusion as a testing requirement.

The board is set to vote on a proposal from the administration to reduce high school testing requirements, including by eliminating testing altogether in 10th grade starting for the class of 2022.

The board previously twice put off the vote because members — including much of its leadership — had concerns that the administration’s proposal would dilute the rigor of the tests.

An oft-cited example of this was the loss of geometry as an explicit requirement, with some board members saying it was a basic math skill that should be included as a test requirement.

The administration now appears willing to meet the members’ concerns. In the latest proposal posted by the state Department of Education for today’s meeting, geometry specifically has been restored as a high school graduation requirement, alongside Algebra I.

Convincing a reluctant board

 Not much more is provided in the department’s presentation, but it may be just enough to move a reluctant board.

Kathy Goldenberg, president of the state board, had been among those pressing for the geometry requirement, saying it is a math skill that could fall by the wayside if it were not a testing requirement. She cited the fact that more than two-thirds of students already fail the state’s existing geometry test.

“My hope and emphasis through all of this is that New Jersey students are provided an equitable opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge to succeed,” she said yesterday.

When asked whether adding geometry to the requirements was enough to sway her vote, Goldenberg said: “It’s not perfect, but it’s a compromise.”

Still, the board president would make no prediction on the eventual vote. “I am looking forward to the discussions,” she said.

Down to the wire

That discussion is sure to be robust, with testing the only item on the agenda for today’s meeting, which was hastily scheduled because of a November deadline to act on the administration’s proposed changes or revert to a previous testing regimen.

There remain plenty of other points to discuss. Another apparent late change to the proposal would allow students to skip the exit test altogether to instead pursue a menu of alternative means of meeting graduation requirements.

The state previously required all students to take the test and, if they didn’t pass, allowed them to pursue alternative paths for meeting the graduation requirements, including through a “portfolio” process showing a body of work.