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Officials sweat over state exams

Ohanian Comment: If New Jersey-ites are so worried, they should just say, "Hell, no!" But there Revolutionary sites are just tourist attractions, not inspirations for action.

An additional 300,000 students will be required to take state exams next year. But the state has not yet created the tests, and educators are worried about how they will introduce them.

Students in fifth, sixth and seventh grades are required to take standardized tests in mathematics and language arts by the end of the 2005-06 school year, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Third-, fourth-, eighth- and 11th-graders already take state tests.

But the state Department of Education will choose a contractor to develop the tests only by the end of the summer, at the earliest, education officials said Friday.

The department issued a request for a proposal in June to solicit bids from contractors who will develop and score the tests for the fifth through seventh grades. The bids must also include plans to administer the exams for third, fourth and eighth grade once the existing contracts expire. Four qualified bidders submitted bids by the July 1 deadline, said Richard Ten Eyck, the assistant commissioner for educational programs and assessment.

An evaluation team is to review the proposals and award the contract between the middle and end of August. The losing bidders can appeal the decision, possibly setting back the process a week.

Further complicating the introduction of the new exams is how they will be funded.

New tests will cost $10.5 million to $12 million each year. The $7 million that the department earmarked for the tests this year was cut by legislators, with support from acting Gov. Richard J. Codey. Ten Eyck said the department was assured by the state that enough money would be made available by the time the contract is awarded. Although the tests are a federal mandate, the U.S. Department of Education does not provide funding for the costs of new tests.

Administrators in Passaic County are worried that the uncertainty over who will get the state contract will complicate their efforts to prepare teachers and students for the new exams - not to mention the difficulty of scheduling the additional tests and ensuring their security.

One provision in the request for proposal is the bidders must plan for the language tests to be administered in two stages: one in January or February for the writing section and one in March or April for multiple-choice reading comprehension.

Students now take the language arts tests at the same time as the math exams in the spring.

Raymond Gonzalez of Paterson public schools said the two-stage test would greatly concern teachers.

"What does this mean for instruction?" asked Gonzalez, the district's director of assessment, planning and evaluation.

Ten Eyck said the reason for that provision was to allow schools to receive results back as soon as possible.

Paterson, which serves about 27,000 children, currently gives its own in-house tests to children in the fifth through seventh grades. Gonzalez said the district wants to make sure it will get the data it needs to update its curriculum, but it does not want to have to double test its children.

Another concern for local educators is when the tests will be given. Currently, March is New Jersey's testing month, with one week devoted to the third-grade and fourth-grade tests, another for the eighth-grade test and still another for the 11-grade test.

Beth DeSantis, vice principal of curriculum and instruction for Haledon public school, said the timing of the new tests will be key.

"If they do it back to back, it's going to crush us," DeSantis said. "It's a massive undertaking."

DeSantis is her district's sole employee whose job it is to administer and organize testing. She usually gets help from one or two teachers each year to organize the tests to send back to the state. But the number of children taking the tests will increase by about 300 in the coming year - or double what it has been until now - and she said she expects that workload will definitely be a challenge.


— Amy L. Kovac
Herald News


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