New Standards, Old Thinking

Posted by Charles Sampson on 11/21/2017

New Jersey is in the process of implementing new science assessments to align to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Science*. According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), these assessments are designed to meet the federal requirement that states must continue annual statewide tests in reading/language arts and mathematics to all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school as well as in science at least once in each of grades 3-5, 6-9, & 10-12 grades.

Let me be clear: standardized assessments have a place in public education. They can help to identify specific attributes of student learning, highlight disparities in achievement, be effective gauges of content and skill mastery and inform curricular and programmatic decisions. Sadly, here in NJ, we have veered sharply from standardized assessments simply having a place to occupying too much space.

Our testing requirements under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) extend far beyond federal requirements. With the introduction this year of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment-Science (NJSLA-S) we have jumped the proverbial shark. With the NJSLA-S, a junior in a New Jersey Public High School will sit for approximately 13 hours of testing between mid-April and mid-June. This does not include Advanced Placement or College Admissions Exams (e.g. SAT, ACT) also commonly taken in the junior year. In fact, current juniors who have already taken the New Jersey Biology Competency Test (NJBCT) as ninth graders, will now take a four-hour field test in the sciences even though they have already taken the federally required assessment!

The NJSLA-S will have teeth-in fact, it will be comprehensive and there are plans to include it as a graduation assessment requirement. Students that follow interests or passions in the sciences and not prescribed course sequences may be at a disadvantage in meeting assessment benchmarks. These consequences will be compounded by the reverberations of PARCC. If current requirements hold, additional gates barring graduation will be raised, hundreds of students may be required to take a “refresher” course based on standardized assessment performance,  equity issues for poor students will become more pronounced and test preparation far worse than what we experienced under No Child Left Behind will be the answer.

Sound frightening? It should.

As a superintendent, I am gravely concerned. As a parent, I am outraged.

We need to stop adding to our standardized assessment load and give back time and energy to teaching and learning. We have a responsibility to speak up for the children we serve, for our own children and for children who have no one to speak for them. I want to see New Jersey lead the nation in educational experiences for children, not seat time for standardized assessments.


*After the publication of this blog, the New Jersey Department of Education responded by saying that at this time there are no plans to make the science assessment a graduation requirement, however, districts will be expected to maintain 95% participation on the test and districts will be formally evaluated through NJQSAC on how well students perform on the assessment.