As Testing Debate Continues, Some N.J. Schools Scale Back Assessments

By Denisa R. Superville — November 25, 2014 2 min read
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With the national focus on student testing and the amount of time it takes away from instruction growing day by day, one New Jersey school district is taking some action.

Glen Ridge High School, in Essex County, has decided to drop midterm and final exams in favor of quarterly assessments that will fit into students’ regular 42-minute class periods, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That change will mean that students will no longer have to spend a week in January (half-days ) on mid-terms and another week in June on finals.

The high school, which made the decision last week, is among less than a handful of other schools and districts in New Jersey that have take similar action or are contemplating dropping some of the multiple assessments that students take annually.

They include Livingston High School, which announced in October that it was canceling midterms, and Millburn High School, where finals will be a thing of the past. Pascack Valley Regional High School District and Northern Valley Regional High School District have also discussed the possibility, according to the paper.

As states gear up for the first full administration of common-core aligned tests developed either by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the process has been accompanied by a robust debate about the frequency of testing in the nation’s schools.

Input from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, congressional representatives, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Large Countywide and Suburban School District Consortium, and the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, have provoked deep conversations about not only the frequency of testing, but the purposes of the assessments and whether they are achieving their intended goals or taking too much time away from instruction.

The Council of the Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools are in the process of reviewing test-taking practices in the council’s districts. Early indicators from that study show that students spend a lot of taking tests and prepping for them.

From the initial results: Students in the council districts that responded take 113 different assessments, not including those that were given to a sample of the schools’ populations. Eleventh graders can take up to 11 different assessments during the year. Eighth graders and 11th graders can spend about 30 hours on tests during the year.

Chicago, which has made efforts in recent years to cut the number of tests required of its students, has asked Illinois education officials for a one year delay in full implementation of the PARCC tests.

There has also been a backlash in some places, with parents leading “opt-out " movements.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie—frequently touted as a 2016 presidential contender—created a commission to review testing in the state. The commission’s report is expected by Dec. 31.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.