New Jersey Study Group Proposes Curriculum, Testing Reforms

By Thomas Toch — February 08, 1984 3 min read

A task force in New Jersey has recommended a return to traditional mathematics and English curricula, rigorous testing, and other measures in an effort to “focus attention on excellence” in the state’s public schools.

“Since the late 1960’s, too many students have been getting credits for marginal and remedial courses,” said Charles A. Boyle, superintendent of the Edison Township School District and co-chairman of a 14-member group that made the recom-mendations in a recent report. “We want to establish higher expectations.”

The panel, made up of administrators and mathematics and English instructors from New Jersey schools and colleges, recommends that school systems require four years of high-school English that focus on the “core” skills of reading, listening, speaking, and critical thinking and writing, and at least three years of mathematics, including basic and intermediate algebra and geometry.

Currently, the state does not require any particular amount of instruction in the two subjects, according to Mr. Boyle, who added that, if adopted by the state boards of education, the task force’s proposals would likely be presented to school systems as recommendations, not mandates.

The panel, which was appointed by New Jersey’s commissioner of education, Saul Cooperman, and the chancellor of higher education, T. Edward Hollander, also urges in its 51-page report that the state establish a test of mathematics and writing skills to be given to 11th-grade students as a prerequisite for graduation. It would be similar to New York State’s Regents examinations.

‘Too Early’

“Some of us feel that the state’s current 9th-grade test comes too early to be used as a graduation requirement,” said Mr. Boyle, who headed the panel with Mark M. Chamberlain, president of Glassboro State College.

The New Jersey Department of Education this fall will introduce a tougher version of its 9th-grade basic-skills examination as a graduation requirement. Mr. Boyle said much of the new exam should be adminstered to 11th-graders and that college-bound students should be required to pass a mathematics section of the test that includes questions on geometry and intermediate algebra. Presently, the test covers only introductory algebra.

The panel, known officially as the Joint Statewide Task Force on Precollege Preparation, also recommends that the state’s colleges and universities require their sophomore students to pass a test of mathematics and writing skills before being allowed to begin their junior year.

The panel also urged that colleges work more closely with the schools by making clear to them what will be expected of their college-bound students, by reporting back to school systems on how their students performed during their freshman year, and by communicating to parents of 8th-grade students the value of enrolling in rigorous courses.

Schools, the panel recommends, should have at least one English teacher for each 100 students and teach reading, writing, and math “across the curriculum.”

The panel said school systems should consider expanding the school day and year if such measures were necessary to accomplish the increased instruction in mathematics and English being proposed.

Additional Funding

Mr. Boyle said that of the panel’s recommendations, only the cost of additional mathematics and English teachers and increased school hours would require additional funding and that such funds should probably come from the state. The panel did not estimate the cost of implementing its entire package of recommendations, Mr. Boyle said.

Last week, Gov. Thomas H. Kean proposed a $194-million increase in state aid to education in his fiscal 1985 budget. It would raise state spending on education to $2.4 billion in a total budget of $7.6 billion.

He also proposed allocating $245,000 for the establishment of a statewide academy for improving precollegiate teaching.

Commissioner Cooperman and Chancellor Hollander, in accepting the panel’s report, said they endorsed virtually all of its recommendations and will present them to their respective boards of education for consideration in coming weeks.

Mr. Boyle said some of the panel’s proposals (such as the curriculum recommendations) will require action by the state’s board of education and the board of higher education, while others can be implemented administratively by the state’s department of education; only the proposed examination of 11th graders will require approval by the state legislature, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 1984 edition of Education Week as New Jersey Study Group Proposes Curriculum, Testing Reforms