State policies on testing, including the controversial PARCC tests, are currently being reviewed by the Murphy administration and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The New Jersey School Boards Association Standards and Assessment Committee, a standing committee of the Association, has discussed this issue over the course of several months with board members and educators. The committee developed recommendations it has provided to the NJDOE.
Although the Standards and Assessment Committee has specific concerns and recommendations regarding state standardized testing, it is also important to know that the committee embraces the use of assessments as one factor in the teaching and learning process.
The committee believes that districts should consider adopting a robust formative assessment process that includes quarterly assessments in all subjects, developed by the teachers who teach those subjects and using questions modeled after those found on the SATs and PARCC that require critical thinking, citing evidence and the explanation of math responses. The assessment should be based in the learning areas that teachers who teach those subjects agree are the essential takeaways for each subject during a quarter.
While it is not the subject of the committee’s recommendations, the members believe that it is useful in effective teacher evaluations to employ “instructional rounds,” three-minute clinical supervision model walk-throughs that help teachers and administrators to develop a “common eye” of district instructional expectations. The instructional rounds help to identify successes and challenges in the instructional program, and helps to inform the district’s program of professional development for educators. Observing high-quality teaching practices can also help newer teachers model excellence in instructional techniques and strategies. This practice is one of the keys to providing educational experiences that facilitate learning for all students.
Assessments The NJSBA Standards and Assessments Committee believes that assessing student learning is an important aspect of the teaching and learning process. The committee believes:
- Students learning should be assessed holistically and over time and not by a single assessment conducted over several days.
- Ninety minutes is too long for a single assessment; there are validated assessments that require less seat time and provide similar information.
- The practice that emphasizes technology-based assessments must be reviewed. There are research reports that students perform at higher levels on paper-and-pencil tests. While selecting the next state test, consideration must be given to this research.
- Clinical evaluation and classroom observation reports must reflect a district’s instructional priorities and include specific suggestions and recommendations for professional growth, while informing administration about tenure and other employment decisions.
- Individual student results should be available by July 15 of each year so the information can be used for student placements and to develop differentiated instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students including those who require remediation, enrichment or support for understanding of the content.
- Unfortunately, among the greatest predictors of performance on standardized tests and other assessments is a student’s socioeconomic status. The most significant value of test results is the information they provide to identify individual student strengths and challenges. This information enables educators to target instruction to support each student’s learning.
- Focusing testing exclusively on math and English/language arts translates to less of an emphasis and less instructional time for subjects such as science, social studies, the arts, and other non-tested subjects. The committee strongly believes the next state testing program should ensure that this situation is addressed so students benefit from instruction in science, social studies, the arts, and the other non-tested areas.
- The emphasis on state assessment performance had led to the neglect of social-emotional learning in a time of growing concern over violence in our schools and across society.
- Instructional time dedicated to test preparation represents a loss of instructional time for content.
- The next generation of New Jersey tests should be criterion-referenced rather than norm-referenced. Although described as such, the current PARCC assessment is not criterion-referenced. A criterion-referenced test sets a specific benchmark that, theoretically, is possible for everyone to meet, or not meet. Norm-referenced tests rank students in comparison to the performance of their peers, rather than determining if they are attaining academic standards. A criterion-referenced assessment would more effectively identify children who need assistance in the tested academic areas.
- There should be a requirement of high school exit or end-of-course exams with an option for alternative measures, including portfolio assessment. The committee also believes in the continuation of prior practice that did not limit the assessment to one test, but permitted the use of the SAT, the ACT, ASVAB, ACCUPLACER, or other state-recognized instruments, thereby providing flexibility of choice for all students.
- There is the potential for, and the appearance of, a conflict-of-interest in having a company develop tests for the state assessment program, then sell the relevant curricular material and test-preparation materials to school districts, and also sell the required assessment for a permanent teaching license. The Standards and Assessment Committee believes that further discussion regarding ways to avoid potential and perceived conflicts is warranted.
- The NJDOE should review and revise standardized rubrics to guide the evaluation of student performance on state assessments. This is important in a process that should provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge on end-of-course exams, as well as multiple means of assessment, including portfolios and options such as the ACT, the SAT, ASVAB and ACCUPLACER in lieu of the New Jersey state standardized assessment.
- The structure of questions that facilitate deeper understanding and require critical thinking are of greater value than those that require rote memorization.
- Student stress is real and uncalled for. Educators, students, and their families would benefit from the following messages: Students are evaluated on multiple types of assessments including, but not limited to, standardized tests; and an assessment is a tool to identify student successes and weaknesses, it determines appropriate instructional levels and remediation that may be needed.
These recommendations have been provided to the New Jersey Department of Education. The NJSBA Standards and Assessment Committee’s full report, including more extensive discussion on these recommendations, is available on the NJSBA website.