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N.J. Officials Spar Over State Testing Plan

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New Jersey education officials and lawmakers are at odds over the state's development of its own standardized student assessments.

At a hearing called by the Assembly education committee last month, legislators from both parties criticized the state's testing program, which will incorporate a high-school-graduation prerequisite for the first time in the coming school year.

Some opponents of the testing program want the state to use tests sold by commercial vendors.

"We should leave test-making up to those more competent than we are,'' Assemblyman John A. Rocco, the chairman of the education committee, said in an interview last week. "Nor should our resources, which are so badly needed in other places, be utilized to make tests.''

New Jersey is one of numerous states that have moved toward producing tests.

"There is a real desire [by states] to have tests that match their outcomes, their curriculum framework, their standards for students,'' said Ramsay W. Selden, the director of the state education-assessment center for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

But the greater trend, according to Mr. Selden, is for states to work collaboratively. About 24 states are involved in a project sponsored by the C.C.S.S.O., and close to 20 are part of another assessment collaborative, but New Jersey is not participating in either effort.

'Early Warning' Flaws

Under former Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman, the New Jersey education department initially planned to develop tests for 4th-, 8th-, and 11th-grade students. Money has not been appropriated, however, for formulation of the elementary assessment.

Renewed complaints about the tests arose earlier this year after a newspaper in the state reported that thousands of children may have been erroneously placed in remedial classes as a result of flaws in the 8th-grade "early warning'' test.

An investigation ordered by the current state chief, Mary Lee Fitzgerald, found that the test instrument was reliable but that its administration and the interpretation of results were flawed. (See Education Week, March 10, 1993.)

Lawmakers say they are concerned that problems will mount when the 11th-grade test is counted for the first time this fall. Students must pass the test in order to graduate.

Despite the criticism of lawmakers, the department intends to go ahead with its plans to administer the 11th-grade proficiency test, as well as to pursue the overall testing program.

"There has been no shift or major change in terms of our plans at this point,'' said Edward Richardson, a spokesman for the department.

"It would be more beneficial to move on and improve the program and establish more rigorous standards than to do away with it,'' Mr. Richardson said.

Still, the department may not have the last word in the matter.

"We'll have to see whether or not we can convince the department that it isn't a great idea,'' Assemblyman Rocco said.

If that effort fails, he added, "Then we'll have to use legislative prerogatives.''

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