N.J. Test Results Released, Up Slightly; Look Up Your School's Scores
Peggy McGlone | The Star-Ledger
Despite changes that made the tests more difficult, New Jersey’s public school students performed about the same as they did in 2012 on statewide math and language arts exams given last spring.
Overall, about 67 percent of third- through eighth-graders were proficient or better in Language Arts, and 75 percent of those students reached the same benchmarks in mathematics, according to data released today at the state Board of Education meeting in Trenton.
The state’s high school students fared even better. About 93 percent of the state’s 11th-graders scored proficient or better on the High School Proficiency Assessment in Language Arts, an increase of one point over last year, and almost 86 percent were proficient in math, a 2.3 point gain.
State education officials said they were pleased with the results.
"The fact that we made the test harder and stayed the same is a positive sign," Education Commission Christopher Cerf said. "When you raise expectations, you need time for people to grow into them."
Cerf said the state’s already high curriculum standards coupled with the five-year period from adoption to complete implementation of the Common Core State Standards have smoothed the bumps that other states have encountered.
"New Jersey actually was a pace car in the nation for having high standards and that is allowing us to transition to the Common Core standards in a less bumpy way than other states have experienced," Cerf said.
New Jersey adopted the national Common Core State Standards in 2010, and is in the middle of a three-year transition to align the new curricula with its annual tests. This year, all but the middle school mathematics sections of the NJ ASK were adapted to the new standards. Next year the entire suite of tests will be current with the Common Core.
Then in the spring of 2015, new and more rigorous tests developed by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, will be introduced.
Assistant superintendent Bari Erlichson said the 2013 test results, administered last spring, prove that the plan is proceeding smoothly.
"We feel really good that while we have migrated from an already strong test to one that is Common Core aligned that our scores have held firm," she said during a 75-minute presentation.
But she cautioned that while some of the content of this year’s tests has changed, the format remains the same. In 2015, the PARCC will focus on the curricula that will have been used for five years, but its computerized format and move away from multiple choice questions will challenge students.
"There is no data that’s going to link us from a NJ ASK world to a PARCC world," she said. "At this point it would not be appropriate to speculate about what our PARCC scores will be."
There was one drop in test scores, which Erlichson attributed to the shift to new material. Just under 80 percent of fifth-graders scored proficient or better in math, a decrease of 3.3 percent from 2012.
"This is one of our grade levels with the least level of overlap," she said, explaining that the test included new questions and material that was previously tested at the sixth-grade level.
Edison Township Superintendent Richard O’Malley said he was surprised to hear the test was so different.
"It’s amazing to me that a year later they say it’s 50 percent different because when we asked they said there were hardly any changes," he said. "I’d say 50 percent is significant."
O’Malley said Edison Township made a shift in its math curriculum two years ago in anticipation of the PARCC, which is focused more on problem solving and "math fluency."
"Math is something we’ve always done well," he said. "Districts that have prepared their students and trained their teachers well, they are definitely going to do better on the Common Core."
The tests also show the gap between white students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. On the NJ ASK Language Arts test, Hispanics scored 27 points lower than whites, and African-Americans scored 31 percent lower. On the math test, those gaps were 22 and 31 points, respectively.
In addition to the statewide averages, state officials released data for individual districts and schools. Some 99 percent of Mount Olive High School students were proficient or better in language arts, and more than 97 percent scored proficient in math.
"While scores are numbers that can be translated and compared, more than anything else the scores represent actual learning that happened," Mount Olive Superintendent Larrie Reynolds said. "For that, we’re happy. We’re in the learning business and we want our kids to learn and be successful in life."
Reynolds is bullish on the move to the Common Core and PARCC, which he says take "a completely different slant" on college and career readiness.
"When I was a wee lad, school was about completion, about finishing. With PARCC, school isn’t about getting through, but about giving you the capabilities that you need in life," he said. "Harder is the wrong word. It is more in-depth. You’re taking knowledge to a deeper level."