Op-Ed: State’s Latest Proposal on Student Testing Is Regressive

Shelley Skinner, Patricia Morgan | October 17, 2019 | Opinion
It would increase stress for students, decrease the availability of useful data and hamper the deployment of resources

If we can all agree that the goal of student assessments should be to maximize the value and timeliness of the data received and minimize the amount of stress we put on students, then the latest proposal from Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet and the state Department of Education fails on both counts.

Student assessments are a powerful tool for parents and students to hold the public education system accountable. The assessments enable parents in urban cities like Newark or Trenton to measure how well their children are learning against the same standards that parents in suburbs like Ridgewood or Summit do. Assessments are an equalizer, but they are also a tool by which the education system can understand what our kids are learning and what areas need improvement. Assessments allow us to make sure that a high school diploma has value and that regardless of your zip code, the diploma you receive means you have a level of education that an employer can rely on. High standards, meaningful, and regular assessments are a critical component of meeting Gov. Phil Murphy’s vision for a skills-based economy.

Despite claims to the contrary, the current proposal from the DOE will not serve to eliminate over-testing in our schools but will make it worse in arguably the most stressful year for high school students, 11th grade.

The 11th grade “graduation” exam will combine 10th grade English Language Arts and Algebra I content into one test — a test, which by the way, does not currently exist. Currently, the vast majority of students take Algebra I in 8th or 9th grade and they are given a state assessment in those grades on that content. Under the DOE proposal, students will be retested on Algebra I content again, one to two years after they have completed this course work. Administering this test in 11th grade also conflicts with when students are preparing for the most high-stakes exams of their lives —SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, and Advanced Placement. If the goal is reducing test-related stress on students, there could be no worse time to administer a duplicative test than at the same time 11th grade students are taking college entrance examinations.

Weakening standards

Beyond increasing student exam stress and testing on duplicative content, an equally distressing reality is that the proposal will weaken the standards we expect from our kids. By eliminating the current 10th grade testing, we are losing a math data point for high school students. Parents will lose one of the only objective measures available to tell them if their students are college- and career-ready. This lack of data will hurt our lowest-performing students. If parents, educators, and New Jersey’s education department do not have information on where students are struggling, it will hamper everyone’s ability to deploy the right resources and interventions.

Quite simply, this proposal is reverting us back to the days of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) where little high school data was provided until too late in a student’s high school career to provide actionable interventions. To be clear, the students who bore the consequences of this were predominately low-income and minority students. This reduction in expectations for our kids will have a direct impact on the quality of the New Jersey high school diploma. The proposal will leave students less prepared to enter the workforce and more likely to require costly remedial classes when they enter college.

There is a solution to avoid backpedaling in New Jersey’s quest for higher standards and educational equity for all students. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz has authored legislation that has already passed the Senate, which eliminates the requirement that our state’s graduation test must be administered in 11th grade. This legislation would allow for the commissioner and State Board of Education to recommend placement of a graduation requirement at a more logical time in high school and avoid the college testing mania that occurs in 11th grade. It would also preserve the high assessment standards that have developed with bipartisan support over many years.

We applaud the State Board of Education for not rushing this critical decision and taking more time to consider this precarious situation. We urge other state leaders and legislators to understand the implications of what this proposal really means for kids and consider an approach that truly does eliminate over-testing and advance support for the students who need it most.