Still, while the existing testing has slowly started to adopt new and tougher material, the biggest changes will come in 2014-2015, when New Jersey moves entirely to the new testing known as PARCC, the acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
And it’s not just about what’s on the tests, but how they will be given. Much of the testing will be online by computer, and in multiple phases over the course of the year. PARCC is being field tested now in dozens of districts, but it will be a big change for most schools long familiar with the state’s paper-and-paper testing given once a year over the course of several days.
Neither Cerf nor Erlichson were ready to make predictions on the results that will come out of the new exams.
The high school test will be a particularly big change, with the state moving eventually to specific subject testing on not just language arts and math but also into subjects such as biology and algebra.
Those new standards have yet to be phased into the state’s testing, and the administration has slowly rolled out the implications of those changes over the past several months, detailing how the transition will take place.
Board members raised the concerns brought forward by districts and others for several years as to whether the higher bar on the high school tests will mean few students moving on to graduation and potentially dropping out.
“As we move to the brave new world of testing, we will have a new basis for high school graduation with presumably higher standards that will result in fewer kids currently graduating from high school,” said board member Claire Chamberlain. “It will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Yesterday, Erlichson repeated that the state’s current requirement that students pass the high school test to graduate will be suspended for the current eighth, ninth, and 10th graders as PARCC is being rolled out.
Erlichson said there will be a review of student results, starting in 2015, to determine how the new graduation requirement will be set going forward.
“We are still 18-20 months away from having our first data,” she said. “It is hard for us to talk in detail about what the world will look like.”
Still, Erlichson said it will be a test for many states, and she conceded it will have its challenges as schools adopt to evaluations tied to specific subject areas, whenever they're taught.
“We will see some messiness of students taking tests at different grade levels,” she said. “Getting that tightness between instruction and assessments, we know this will improve instruction and improve student outcomes, but getting there could prove a little rocky.
She added: “Keep calm and carry on.”
There are also some statutory and regulatory requirements to overcome in that transition, with state law currently requiring the graduation test, but neither Erlichson nor Cerf broached the topic yesterday.
State board leaders said they have yet to see any specific proposals along those lines, with the new testing still two years off.
“There is a lot of work that has taken us to this point,” said Arcelio Aponte, the board president. “But there is certainly going to be difficulties going forward. Still, we are not just turning on a switch. We have been working on this many, many years.”