As spring approaches, we know that state testing is right around the corner. Many students across the country will be taking standardized tests. In New Jersey, students will be taking the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK). Like most things, it was developed with good intentions. 

The question is; are these tests preparing our children to be better all-around students? MIT researchers have shown that these types of tests are not a good indication of the child’s actual knowledge of the subject. I’m sure if you compared your own child’s knowledge versus the results of these tests you will find the research to be true. We are blessed to have great teachers, administrators, and staff in our Caldwell-West Caldwell community and this in no way meant negatively towards them. The district is following the guidelines created by the NJ State Board of Education (NJBOE) and the US Department of Education.

In my own life, I’ve witnessed similar results. For example, my two daughters have taken NJ ASK tests for several years now and their results do not coincide with the teacher’s recommendations. When a child performs poorly on a standardized test they run the risk of being categorized or labeled. As result, the child will be put on a curriculum which does not match their actual strengths and weaknesses.

As we all know, teachers are over-worked and underpaid. It is very difficult for them, due to time and effectiveness, to look beyond these tests and make the proper adjustment for the child. With that said, the child is most likely to create a barrier or mental road block on certain subjects and become victims of their own self-fulfilling prophecy; talk about unintended consequences.

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I understand there is a need for standards and guidelines so one can evaluate our children. One does not need to be an educator to realize the world is changing quickly in front of us. Students not only need memorization and analytical skills (this is what our current test system is comprised of), but they also need certain skills such as creativity, adaptability and confidence; all of which is extremely important in this stage of their development. These skills will help them in their future when they are running a business, working with others and developing personal relationships.

There are many analytical people that have difficulties getting work done whether in theory or in practice in group settings. We most certainly need analytical skills to test our ideas and determine their true value. We also need visionary skills that will give us different points-of-view so that all aspects of an idea can be truly tested. When we only test for memorization these tests become one dimensional. As a result, we are putting our children at a disadvantage in the future.

At this stage in our child’s development, do we want them to be exposed to one form of processing data or multiple facets of thinking? I can’t tell for certain which careers will be around five years, let alone fifteen years from now. However, I can tell you this; the adult of tomorrow who is well rounded in the analytical and liberal arts is more apt to succeed than the one who isn’t. Stewart Butterfield (co-founder of Flickr), Ted Turner (founder of CNN), Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), and Patrick Byrne (founder of are just a few examples of people who are well rounded.

We in the United States know that our education system must be improved because we have fallen behind other nations, but how? One avenue that is being heavily looked at is duplicating educational systems from nations that have high test scores.

Let’s conduct a short quiz; can you name this country? 

  • Does not give standardized test until after the child is 15 years old 
    • Program For International Student Assessment (PISA) 
  • Voted best country overall (including their education system) by Newsweek 
  • Rank near or at the top in reading, math, and science on every survey since 2000 
    • Hint… Home of the mobile phone giant, Nokia 
    • Hint… Known for some of the best cheeses of the world

If you guessed Finland, you are correct! Finland DOES NOT administer student standardized tests until after the child is 15 years old. Again, they rank near or at the top in reading, math, and science on every survey since 2000. According to Finnish journalist Anu Partanen in her article entitled “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success” for “The Atlantic:”

“Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation's education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.”

How does the United States ranking compared to other nations? In his article for NBC News, “US Teens Lag in Global Education Rankings as Asian Countries Rise to the Top“ Daniel Arkin wrote:

“Roughly half a million students in 65 nations and educational systems representing 80 percent of the global economy took part in the 2012 edition of PISA, which is coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. The numbers are even more sobering when compared among only the 34 OECD countries. The United States ranked 26th in math - trailing nations such as the Slovakia, Portugal and Russia. What’s more, American high school students dropped to 21st in science (from 17th in 2009) and slipped to 17th in reading (from 14th in 2009), according to the results.”

After researching NJ Ask, I, as a concerned parent, have chosen to select opt-out/refuse for my two daughters from taking this one-sided testing method. I encourage all parents to research NJ ASK and come to the same conclusion to select opt-out/refuse for their child. We as parents must educate ourselves on our rights. If anyone questions you or states that you can’t choose to opt-out/refuse, then show them a printed copy of the 2000 Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville with regards to the Fourteenth Amendment. The case outlines your parental rights to direct the education of your child and your child’s right to that education. US law supersedes state administrative codes; in NJ that would be NJAC 6A:8-4.1. Have school officials enter the refusal code V2. It is on page 33 in the 2013 NJ ASK Scoring Interpretation (2014 might be off a few pages, but the section is accurate).

If you need a sample letter to send to your school administrator, simply click on this facebook link - You have my permission to use the letter how you see fit or share it with anyone that might need it as a guide.

For the follow-up article, read:

Misinformation and Half-Truths: Is This What We Have Come to Expect from Our Education System?  

Rick Alonso is a resident of the Caldwells and is presently a candidate for Freeholder-at-large in Essex County, NJ. He can be contacted at