Topic 2: N.J. revamps student testing system

Debate Question: Some educators claim that testing plans such as new Jersey's are unethical. Are they right? [Note: this topic requires additional research using other sources]

Source: Inquirer

N.J. revamps student testing system - New standardized tests will be used. They will carry equal weight with "performance assessments" in various subjects.
By Angela Couloumbis
Inquirer Trenton Bureau

TRENTON - Moving to overhaul the way New Jersey tests its public school children, Gov. McGreevey yesterday said the state will implement new standardized tests as well as require districts to evaluate students based on performance.

The change will effectively ease the state's reliance on traditional standardized tests - long a source of controversy in New Jersey - by requiring school districts to administer programs to evaluate students in various subjects based on their performance.

The two testing measures will be given equal weight when it comes time to assess how children are faring in school, officials said.

"This is a great day for teaching and learning in the state of New Jersey," said Education Commissioner William Librera. "It's also a great day for families, for teachers and for children."

Officials said yesterday that the state now will seek a testing company to formulate new standardized tests in language arts and possibly math for all third graders. Those tests would be ready by next spring.

By spring 2004, the state wants to have a new standardized test in place for science for third and possibly fourth graders, said David Nash, assistant director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

By the 2005-06 school year, the state should have new math and language arts standardized tests for students between third and eighth grades, as well as students in 11th grade, Nash said.

And by the 2007-08 school year, the state wants to have standardized tests in science that would be administered once while students are in elementary school, once when students are in middle school, and once when students are in high school.

Students in New Jersey now are tested in the fourth, eighth and 11th grades. State officials said the changes in standardized testing are necessary to meet federal guidelines, signed by President Bush earlier this year, that require states to test students in reading and math every year in grades three through eight.

All changes to testing, however, also will have to be approved by the state Board of Education.

But, state and education officials said yesterday, students would not be assessed only by their scores on standardized tests.

Instead, the state will require school districts to administer what are called "performance assessments" in various subjects.

For example, in a science class, a student could be given three glasses of water - each at different temperatures - and asked to explain why, for instance, an Alka-Seltzer tablet melts more quickly at one temperature compared to another.

How students perform on those assessments, combined with how students fare on the standardized tests, then would form the basis of how student achievement is measured.

Some districts, including Cherry Hill's, already have such performance-assessment programs in place.

But state officials said yesterday that the Education Department will select a cross section of 18 "pilot" districts across the state to help teachers figure out how to develop performance-assessment programs and how to grade students on those assessments. They are hoping to start that initiative next year.

The goal is to have all school districts eventually have performance-assessment programs, which would have to be approved by the state.

"Ensuring a quality education is incumbent upon all of us... and this today is a significant breakthrough," McGreevey said. "It is a clear path for thoughtful reform."

McGreevey and other state officials would not say yesterday how much the testing changes are expected to cost.

The changes announced yesterday grew out of a report written by a coalition of educators and business leaders. The report was part of an effort to change the way educators assess students' achievement.

Earlier this year, Librera had proposed eliminating science from standardized tests for fourth, eighth and 11th graders - those students are also tested in math and language arts - but eventually he backed off that proposition.

Instead, the compromise was that eighth graders would be tested in science this year, but fourth and 11th graders would not.

Fourth graders are scheduled to be tested next week.

Last modified: Wed Sep 13 14:57:24 EDT 2000