Driven by the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, New Jersey has begun an overhaul of its student testing program, replacing its standardized tests with a hybrid of standardized and performance-based assessments.
The state’s direction bucks a national trend that finds states relying increasingly on standardized tests as they grapple with mounting accountability demands.
New Jersey leaders hope their approach will yield a truer picture of student achievement.
The five-year plan specifies that teams of local teachers will devise performance-based assessments, such as student projects, that will be used statewide by 2008.
Moving from the exclusive use of pen- and-pencil tests to a balanced approach that gives equal weight to performance assessments reflects a growing body of research favoring “authentic” assessment and the new federal law’s emphasis on multiple measures of achievement, state officials say in documents supporting the plan.
Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, envisions the final system as one that not only measures student progress, but also better embodies what he believes should be the key reason for testing: instructional improvement.
“We all strongly support the need for testing, yet we must also be acutely aware of the purpose of testing: A critical aspect of it is to serve as a diagnostic tool for teachers, so they can ultimately be more responsive to the needs of the student,” he said in an interview last week.
The plan emerged from the governor’s partnership with two coalitions of leading New Jersey education and business groups, which have been pressing for assessments that more accurately reflect students’ understanding of state standards, and make it easier to improve instruction.
Outlining the plan Nov. 15 at an education conference at Rutgers University in Piscataway, Gov. McGreevey and Commissioner of Education William L. Librera said the new assessments would be developed first in language arts, mathematics, and science. Beginning in January, teachers in nine pilot districts will be trained in preparing and scoring performance-based evaluations.
More pilot districts will be added, and use of the new assessments expanded, until they are in use statewide—in grades 3-8 and high school—in all eight academic areas covered by the state’s curriculum standards, said Jeff Osowski, the vice president for education policy for the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber helped organize a coalition of education and business groups that wrote the recommendations that helped forge the governor’s test revisions.
The coalition and the state are co-sponsoring the plan’s first year.
New Jersey currently administers standardized tests to 4th, 8th, and 11th graders in reading and math, and to 8th graders in science. It plans to expand the testing program to grades 3-8 and to give tests at least once in high school, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. The state also will phase in revised versions of the tests in some grades.
A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as Governor Takes N.J. Down Testing Road Less Traveled