A Test We All Can Pass: Giving New Jersey Students, Parents, and Educators Information About Student Progress

On June 19, JerseyCAN released an important report on the past, present, and future of our state assessment system. The Real Test: Are We Committed to Excellence and Equity in New Jersey? points out the impressive academic gains students have made with the support of their families and educators over the past several years. Our state commitment to high expectations in the form of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) has resulted in improvements that lead the nation across grade levels and in the shrinking of achievement gaps.

The Real Test offers objective evidence that the NJSLS are working. Through a series of charts, the report demonstrates how significantly more New Jersey students have met grade level expectations in reading and math since 2015, when the state first implemented the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. These findings are noteworthy and deserve wide dissemination, especially given our state’s courage in maintaining rigorous standards and providing transparent data about student achievement.

Unfortunately, the politics behind accountability measures like assessments too often prevent some state leaders from widely sharing these tremendous gains. While no one is calling for any changes to our academic standards, the Murphy administration is seeking the reduction and/or elimination of many testing requirements. So while we seem to have agreement about the high bar we have set for our students, we are now facing the possibility of stepping backwards on the path to offering all New Jersey students the opportunity to demonstrate that they are prepared for success in college, career, and life.

It is time to realize the promise of our state assessment system and the resulting data it provides – especially to families. Just a quick glance at some of the data from “The Real Test” leads to important questions about what is happening in across the state. How can 91% of students graduate from high school when only about half meet grade level standards in ELA 10 and Algebra I? Why are gaps between graduation rates and student proficiency on SAT and PARCC benchmarks so large?

When we equip parents with valuable information, we empower them as partners in supporting their children’s academic success.

It’s time to confront some tough questions:  Are parents given meaningful opportunities to learn about their children’s academic progress? Are they helped to understand the assessments and to ask the right questions at parent-teacher conferences? Are educators equipped with resources and training to make the best use of assessment results and other measures of student growth to inform classroom instruction? Do high-achieving high school students have ample opportunities to take advanced career and technical and/or college credit-bearing courses in high school? Do students who want to attend college but aren’t ready academically have access to programs that will better prepare them?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then we all have much more work to do. The New Jersey Department of Education should work with school districts to ensure that state and local data about student progress don’t just represent numbers on a piece of paper, but rather are used to inform smart decisions about resources and other forms of support. Higher education leaders and employers should continue partnering with school districts and sharing recommendations with state leaders to better align public school pathways with the needs of college and the workforce. Advocacy groups should shine a light on the needs for these conversations and help convene stakeholders who can collaborate on a productive path forward.

And, most importantly, all of us should raise our voices in agreement that equity and excellence are, indeed, our true and appropriate focus when it comes to state policy.

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