N.J. Education Officials Look to Cut Back on High School Standardized Tests

September 13, 2011

TRENTON — New Jersey high school students could face fewer standardized tests under an effort to streamline the state’s education system, Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said Monday.

The announcement came as an education task force released a report to Gov. Chris Christie that suggests eliminating about 45 regulations and making charter schools easier to open.

Christie and state education officials Monday said the report makes suggestions to improve schools at every level.

"This is not a time for complacency," Cerf said. "This task force will be a catalytic moment in transforming education."

Currently, students take the High School Proficiency Assessment or an alternative exam in order to graduate.

Cerf said the state is considering options that would allow students who take standardized tests used to get into colleges — such as the SAT or the ACT — to substitute them for the high school proficiency test.

The state could also merge other tests, he added, like making the community college entrance exam and high school graduate test one and the same. Cerf also said the state could eliminate the high school proficiency test and just require students to take tests based on individual subjects, such as New York’s regents exams.

He said the state will accept proposals from testing firms and a new system could be in place by the next school year.

The report released Monday also suggests cutting red tape to make it easier to open a charter school. It recommends eliminating a requirement that charter schools use buildings in the town where students live. For example, a charter school could be opened in Elizabeth to serve Newark students.

"Charter schools should be free to determine the best location for their buildings, subject to the input of any affected district," the report read.

The report also suggests a change that would help pave the way for online charter schools, by clarifying a requirement for charter schools that says 90 percent of enrolled students need to live in their district.

The report also called for relaxing or changing dozens of regulations governing schools, from easing the minimum space required for preschool classrooms — 950 square feet — to changing the requirements for continuing professional development for teachers.

Christie has made charter school expansion and a complete overhaul of the education system a focal point of his administration’s agenda. He has already outlined plans to do away with teacher tenure and set up a performance-based review system for teachers, create a merit pay system and allow private, for-profit companies to take over failing schools.

"Education is supposed to be the thing that can bring you to higher and higher levels of success in our society," Christie said.

Christie acknowledged that while some students do very well under the current system, the state has the third highest gap in achievement between school districts, which harms those in under-performing schools.

Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, said the teachers union just began looking at the report Monday. "You’re going to want to look at it very carefully," he said, taking issue with the use of some of the data in describing the state’s achievement gap. "Right off the bat, the report is trying very hard to find something negative out of data that is not that negative."