ANALYSIS: NJ Ed Department’s Proposal for Dumbed-Down Tests Is 64 Floor Redux

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Two years ago, under the leadership of Phil Murphy’s Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, the State Board of Education voted 12-1 to kill the standardized assessments given to 10th graders in math and reading. While Repollet claimed the new testing rules were “educationally sound,” others expressed dismay at the prospect of the state only gauging student progress through comparable data once in high school during the 9th grade tests and then letting things lay. Sure, students would still have to take a diploma-qualifying test in 11th grade but that assessment was widely viewed as a joke: if you didn’t pass it, you just took an easier test.

In response to the State Board’s acquiescence to Repollet and Murphy’s campaign to reduce testing, JerseyCAN, the. non-profit advocacy group issued a statement:

[Eliminating 10th grade tests] reduces accountability within the school system and will provide less information to families and schools. It is now incumbent upon the Legislature to act to ensure our state maintains meaningful graduation requirements and that parents have access to timely data that can improve educational outcomes and better prepare our kids for college and career readiness.


But that’s not what happened. Instead, proposal in hand, the Legislature chose to done nothing. And last week the State Board, again aquiescing to the Department of Education’s anti-accountability vibe, seemed pretty enthusiastic (with the exception of Vice President Andrew Mulvihill) about new high school diploma-qualifying assessments that are more dumbed-down than the old ones.

Ready for some Repollet Sprinkles? The Board appears on a glide path to setting passing scores so low as to to render the assessments meaningless, leaving parents without access to timely data, and failing to prepare our kids for higher education or employment.

Senator Teresa Ruiz now appears prescient when she said last January, “It just seems we continue to move away from getting a true determination of where we stand as a school system.”

How low can we go? This particular DOE limbo game, an extension of the 64 Floor, will offer students and parents one of  two possible outcome, Pass or Fail.

And you pass even if you fail to meet minimum score for meeting expectations in reading and math.

There’s a reason why the federal government, as part of the law called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), specifically bars a Pass/Fail grading system (see page 18) to satisfy the requirement of testing students once in high school:

  (1) CHALLENGING STATE ACADEMIC STANDARDS.— (A) IN GENERAL.—Each State, in the plan it files under subsection (a), shall provide an assurance that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards (referred to in this Act as ‘‘challenging State academic standards’’), which achievement standards shall include not less than 3 levels of achievement, that will be used by the State, its local educational agencies, and its schools to carry out this part.   

From the document: “Achievement standards shall include not less than 3 levels of achievement.” But Pass/Fail is only two achievement levels. (Our old tests had five.) Thus, the diploma-qualifying test, wouldn’t satisfy regulations from the federal government. That’s a problem.

Those politicized educational decisions also belie the spirit of ESSA.  Regulations emphasize that state assessments given to comply with the law shall:

 be— (I) the same academic assessments used to measure the achievement of all public elementary school and secondary school students in the State; and (II) administered to all public elementary school and secondary school students in the State; (ii) be aligned with the challenging State academic standards, and provide coherent and timely information about student attainment of such standards and whether the student is performing at the student’s grade level;

It’s only through authorizing tests aligned with “challenging State academic standards” that we maintain transparency about how successfully our schools are teaching reading and math. But the DOE’s proposal–at least for the diploma-qualifying test–fails to meet the standards set by the federal government during President Obama’s administration.

(Also, 600 math educators just signed a letter that states, in part, “All students, regardless of background, have access to a math curriculum with precision and rigor, and that would enable them to pursue STEM degrees and careers if they so choose…Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility.”)

Murphy’s DOE is so focused on their new diploma-qualifying tests that staffers appear to have given no thought to the lack of useful information they will produce for parents, students, teachers, schools, and the state— in fact, the DOE had to change the tests’ descriptor from “college and career-ready” to “graduation ready” because no one can pretend anymore that a NJ high school diploma signifies anything but seat time. Instead, these tests obscure student readiness for whatever they want to do next, the opposite of “precision and rigor,” an exercise in evading accountability and transparency.

We are awash in irony: the Murphy Administration’s eagerness to kowtow to NJEA leaders yields additional tests for students even as Murphy ran on a platform of reducing tests; the Murphy Administration’s DOE, even without Lamont Repollet, is expanding the lowering-standards ideology of the 64 Floor to something more like the Governor’s “23-room multi-million villa in Umbria” (that’s from the Daily Mail).

On the other hand, maybe that’s all wrong. The kids take some tests. The results come out (with at least three achievement levels, not Pass/Fail), and either go to families and teachers or not. Then they get filed in the circular bin because, after all, who can trust the feds to zero in on high school quality when there’s a pandemic and D.C. is in turmoil. Everyone’s happy.

Is everyone happy?



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