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New Jersey followed the nation in recording a slight dip in scores on the 2015 national test given to students in grades four and eight, though the state remains among the highest-performing in the country, according to results released today.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also called the Nation’s Report Card, showed reading scores remained almost flat, while math scores, after a decade of slow but steady increases, dropped slightly.

Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a media teleconference that a dip in one year does not indicate a trend and people should be cautious about reading too much into the results.

The results come as many states are also releasing the results of the first tests given based on the increasingly controversial Common Core State Standards. The New Jersey Department of Education has been using the NAEP results as a gauge for its scoring of the new PARCC tests.

Education Commissioner David Hespe said at the New Jersey School Boards Conference Tuesday in Atlantic City that the NAEP is the gold standard against which states can track their performance. He said the state is also doing a five-year review of the standards and is expected to have recommendations by early 2016.

About 2,000 New Jersey students took each of the NAEP tests in math and reading, or about 2 percent of all students. The sampling is designed to reflect the demographics of the state.

New Jersey released statewide results for the first PARCC tests last week, and new scoring shows a closer correlation with NAEP scores than the old state tests. New Jersey uses five performance levels, the top two of which, meeting and exceeding expectations, are used for students who demonstrate clear mastery of a subject. About 25 percent to 30 percent of students fall into a third category of “approaching expectations” that might mean they are earning passing grades but need a little extra support.

Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson said the large third group is likely to get a lot of district attention, but any support that helps them will likely help all struggling students.

The issue of just passing a course as opposed to mastering the material has become more important due to the high percentage of students requiring remediation in college. More than two-thirds of community college students in New Jersey require some remediation.

William Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, said many states made significant changes in their curricula in the past couple of years, and it is not uncommon to first see a decline in performance before improvement. He said the NAEP test is independent from the Common Core standards and is designed to provide data that can be tracked over time, though the board does review and adapt to national curriculum shifts.

A report released Tuesday by the American Institutes for Research found there was “reasonable agreement” between the NAEP and the Common Core standards, but some mismatches in math. In eighth grade, 97 percent of the NAEP items address math included in the Common Core standards, but 42 percent of the standards for grades 6, 7 and 8 were not tested at all.

Carr said the NAEP is just one test and cannot cover every topic.

“There is a lot of content in the Common Core, and assessments are just samples,” she said. “Each state should look at its own data, and we should be an independent indicator.”

Bushaw said they applaud states that are attempting to match their scoring to the NAEP.

“Raising the bar is important,” he said.

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Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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