Another Chink in the D.O.E.’s CredibilityMay 5, 2009
Green Dot’s Steve BarrMay 5, 2009
Derrell Bradford of E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) has a new column out that slams the D.O.E.’s Special Review Assessment, the test that high schoolers take to graduate after they fail the HSPA three times. It’s a controversial test – Asssemblyman Joseph Cryan has called its overuse “criminal” while others argue that its necessary for kids who don’t “test well.” Bradford writes,
The rest of us believe that, though standards and testing are vital, what they reveal about student achievement is what’s important. And that the failure by between 11,000 and 15,000 students annually to pass the High School Proficiency Assessment– described by state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy as a “middle school level test,” which is passable with a 50 percent– is symptomatic of massive K-12 failure, ridiculous social promotion policies, and a conspiracy to disguise failure as success while propping up the state’s inflated graduation rate.
The scandal, he notes, is not limited to marginal students struggling in remedial courses. In fact, 90% of SRA users passed Algebra 1, 86% passed Geometry, 71% passed Algebra 2, and 91% passed Biology.
In other words, high school students who successfully pass our most advanced high school courses fail a middle-school math test. Is the HSPA deeply flawed? Probably not – it’s a pretty standard high-stakes test. Are our high school math and science courses too easy? Maybe, though all schools are required to follow the NJ Core Curriculum Standards, which carefully lay out a detailed curriculum for each course. Bradford lays the blame on poor quality of instruction, pointing out that 42% of prospective New Jersey teachers failed the math portion of the Praxis certification exam.
A blog called EduInsights describes a high school teacher’s experience with the N.J. certification test for physics:
If you have been following my earlier posts, you can guess how NJ got the physics people to pass chemistry and the chemistry people to pass physics. It just set very low standards. To earn physical science certification NJ required three tests. For physics, they used the one-hour Praxis II (10261) test of physics content knowledge, for chemistry the one-hour Praxis II (20241) test of chemistry content knowledge. [They also required a Praxis II test in General Science (10431) that includes biology.] The pre-2004 NJ cut-scores were a 119 for chemistry (19% of the scaled points possible) and a 113 for physics (13% of the scaled points possible).
In other words, the scandal is not limited to the awarding of a N.J. high school diploma to students who can’t pass an 8th grade math test. The scandal is also the low standards set for teachers who instruct these students. (To be fair, the low requirements are not limited to N.J. – you can check check cut-offs here – though we are on the low side for math.) To further muddy the waters, the D.O.E. is now pushing hard on their High School Reform, which is meant to raise standards for high school graduation and apparently includes requiring students who can’t pass middle school tests to take advanced courses taught by teachers who can’t pass teacher tests.
New Jersey prides itself on its high school graduation rates. However, if students receive diplomas without core knowledge, then that diploma is a meaningless measurement. If our goal is to increase student achievement in New Jersey, then we have to look beyond student test scores and delve more deeply into state-mandated curriculum, teaching qualifications and accountability, and grade inflation.