ATLANTIC CITY — Students currently in grades eight, nine and 10 will not be required to pass new high school tests to graduate during their phase-in period, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf confirmed at the NJEA convention Friday.
A paper version of the new tests will also be available at schools where technology or Internet connectivity is still a problem, though state officials are stressing that the test is designed to be taken online and they expect schools to be working toward that goal.
“We understand that there will be some who have pencil and paper tests the first year,” Cerf said in answer to questions from teachers and technology coordinators concerned that their technology might not be up to the task of testing every child online. After his presentation at the Atlantic City Convention Center, he said they want every district to be ready but are not sure every individual school will be ready.
The graduation issue is a bit more complicated since state graduation requirements now include passing a state test. Cerf said he believes the issue will be worked out with the state Board of Education and state Legislature if necessary before testing begins.
He and Assistant Commisioner Bari Erlichson said the testing schedule is based on the 2012 recommendations from the state Task Force on College and Career Readiness. Erlichson said they will monitor the test results as they begin to determine if the phase-in period should be extended.
The new tests, being developed by the PARCC, or The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will be six end-of-course tests and will begin with math and language arts in the 2014-15 school year. Students’ scores will be included on their high school transcripts and be part of the state report card.
In collaboration with state colleges, the plan calls for scores to also be used to determine college readiness. Students who achieve a passing score will not be required to take a college placement test such as the Accuplacer to determine if they need remedial courses.
Erlichson said colleges have been represented in the process by Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks. She said test scores would not be used for admission to college, but would determine placement into classes.
Cerf received a respectful if not enthusiastic response from the capacity crowd of about 250 teachers at the New Jersey Education Association convention. He focused his talk on what he called the “myths” of his role and said the primary roles of the state are to set high standards, develop the contours of evaluation systems for teachers and foster innovation.
While the crowd was polite overall, teachers laughed when Cerf said he really doesn’t care about tests. He continued on to say that what he cares about are what the tests mean for the future of those students. A misspelling on one slide also drew some snickers from the crowd.
When he said it’s a myth that he wants to privatize education, one woman yelled out “You’re a liar,” which drew a strong negative reaction from the crowd.
Teachers are especially concerned that the new teacher evaluations are being implemented at the same time as new standards and state tests.
Sean Spiller, a science teacher in Wayne, Passaic County, said teachers statewide are very stressed by having new evaluations at the same time they are trying to implement all new curriculum when they may not yet have received all the training and materials they need.
“The state needs to recognize that void,” he said,adding there is a lack of resources for the new standards. The NJEA had supported postponing new evaluations until teachers had time to adjust to new standards and curriculum.
Vendors at the exhibit halls actively touted their materials as being aligned to the standards.
“You can’t walk around here without seeing signs everywhere saying ‘aligned with the common core,’” said Kathy Walsh, senior director of teacher outreach and training with Scholastic Inc.
“Teachers are concerned about it,” said Ellen Montney, a consultant with Hands-On Equations, which claims it makes algebra child’s play.
Walsh said New Jersey and New York are among the better-prepared states. She said Scholastic has a free website for teachers that shows how their materials align with the standards.
“I know it’s been a challenge,” she said. “It is very rigorous and some teachers are having a tough time making the transition.”
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