TRENTON — The debate over how to revamp New Jersey’s state standardized test continues as State Board of Education members Wednesday tabled discussion on a proposal to put in place testing and graduation requirements for current seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students in line with a court order.
The latest proposal, which would amend a 2018 proposal from the Department of Education, is based on a 2018 court ruling striking down the state’s use of multi-year assessments as a requirement for graduation.
Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said the proposal currently before the state board is “one step” and “a compromise” in the state’s transition of its current standardized tests.
“But it’s the best approach to avoid over-testing in high school, while still providing schools with years of continuous assessment data,” he said.
The proposal considered Wednesday came as a surprise to Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, who penned an op-ed in the Asbury Park Press condemning the changes as “directly contrary to the department’s own messaging from last year that 11th grade was too late to test and remediate students.”
“We must not throw thoughtful compromise and consideration of what is best for students out the window,” Ruiz wrote. “This was a plan all parties agreed to until politics reared its ugly head, and now our students may be worse without it. I ask again that the administration support the path that gives the greatest flexibility to their department to do the best by our students.”
Last year, the State Board of Education introduced a proposal that would eliminate some of the required state testing in high school. That proposal was advertised in the New Jersey Register for public comment in November 2018.
Shortly after, in a New Year’s Eve decision, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, struck down the New Jersey Department of Education’s 2016 revision to state graduation requirements requiring two year-end Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests before obtaining a high school diploma.
The court said the current test requirements were contrary to the intent of the Legislature’s Proficiency Standards and Assessments Act, which specifically stated one test would be administered in 11th grade.
In order to provide a clear path to graduation for the students affected by the court’s decision while the state developed a new plan for standard testing, the court approved an agreement to allow students in the classes of 2019 through 2022 to graduate using the state’s 2019 graduation rules, which included the broadest options for standardized tests.
The State Board of Education on Wednesday took up for consideration a proposal that adheres to the court rulings and sets out a similar path to graduation for the students currently in seventh, eighth and ninth grade who would graduate from 2023 to 2025.
“This compromise keeps two years of testing in high school while still meeting the mandate in state law for an 11th-grade graduation assessment,” Repollet said.
Stan Karp, director of secondary reform project for Education Law Center, one of the plaintiffs in the graduation requirement lawsuit against the state, said it was important that the rules include a variety of options for students to meet graduation requirements. Karp said he was glad the latest proposal includes those options.
Karp said the board must take up a vote on the amended proposal before the first week of November or the 2018 proposal will expire.
The proposal includes testing in English and math in ninth grade to meet federal standards, and in grade 11 for the state graduation assessment requirement.
New Jersey Education Association spokeswoman Dawn Hiltner called the proposal “a step in the right direction.”
“New Jersey currently requires more testing than any other state in the nation. Reducing the number of tests at the high school level allows for a greater emphasis on curriculum and instruction, which is what truly has an impact on student growth,” Hiltner said.
She said those opposed to reducing the number of statewide assessments may believe it will result in less data, but that is not the case.
“While state assessments are important, they are a small piece of the overall student evaluation puzzle,” she said.