SUMMIT, NJ - New Jersey schools are performing at high levels and are well-positioned for the upcoming changes in student assessment testing, according to Dr. Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer, Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting for the New Jersey Department of Education.
Speaking to an audience of Summit parents and teachers at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, which also included Mayor Ellen Dickson, Superintendent Dr. Nathan Parker, Summit Board of Education (BOE) President Gloria Ron-Fornes and other members of the BOE, Erlichson spoke for 90 minutes, working in tandem with a Powerpoint presentation that displayed facts supporting her assertions.
"Our schools do a lot of wonderful things, but New Jersey still has some work to do and we can improve," Erlichson offered as she opened her talk.
Using National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, Erlichson detailed the nationwide discrepancy between state proficiency scores and state graduation rates, illustrating that testing standards fluctuate significantly state to state. When states set standards, and adopted assessments to measure those standards under the No Child Left Behind legislation passed during the Bush Administration, many states set low standards and low passing thresholds.
For example, New Jersey is currently tied -- with Massachusetts -- as the top-ranked state in the country in 8th grade reading, based on NAEP, and reports an 83 percent graduation rate. Texas, conversely, ranks 31st in the nation but reports a graduation rate of nearly 87 percent. Many states trumpet their rising graduation rates, however there is no common standard, which led Erlichson to label those state's declarations as, "True, but useless." This mismatch illuminates a widespread "problem," Erlichson said, as many graduates are unprepared when they pursue post-secondary education and career opportunities.
The lack of preparedness manifests itself in the alarming number of graduates who take remedial classes, estimated at between 29 and 40 percent, with numbers climbing past 50% for those enrolled in community colleges. Of equal significance, students enrolling in at least one remedial course are more likely to drop out without a college degree, less than 50 percent complete their remedial courses, and less than 25 percent of community college students taking remedial coursework earn a certificate or degree within eight years.
Despite New Jersey's state assessment standards being among the nation's strongest, an ongoing evolution began years ago to align the assessment testing with the Common Core Curriculum. This evolution will enter a new phase with the adoption of Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) program, of which New Jersey is currently one of 19 states scheduled to participate.
Beginning in 2015, PARCC will replace New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK), and the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA). The PARCC program will fully align assessment testing with the Common Core State Standards.
In grades 3-8, there will be Performance Based Assessments (PBA) and End of Year Assessments (EOY), the latter of which is machine score-able and, in grades 9-11, there will be EOY testing in English, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra II. In the initial phase of PARCC testing, passing the tests will not be mandatory to graduate, with a date linking PARCC with graduation yet to be determined.