New Test Raises Questions
Here's what a school superintendent concludes: "Obviously we have to give the test because of No Child Left Behind — we'll follow the rules because we're rule-followers."
But it's becoming less and less obvious that this is the right thing to do.
By Jeanette Calo
The new standardized tests remain carefully guarded in test coordinators' offices today, waiting to be distributed to fifth- through seventh-graders on Tuesday.
Pupils will face four days of testing this week, the first year pupils in the three grades will sit for the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, or NJASK. The tests are designed to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. They are used to determine whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress towards NCLB's goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
"It's not NCLB, it's NCLU — No Child Left Untested," said T. Jon Sinclair, principal of Long Pond School in Andover Township. "These children are already tested extensively and this just adds additional pressure to their already complicated lives as young adolescents."
Andover Regional Super- intendent Jerry Clymer agrees.
"I don't want to say we're testing the kids to death, but we are testing the kids quite frequently," Clymer said. "I think we have to have some type of accountability ... but I don't think any one test will tell you anything about a child — there are a lot of factors."
Dr. Kathleen Monks, the assistant superintendent of Sparta in charge of curriculum, said she is not sure what will be learned from the test termed an "interim measure" by the state Department of Education.
"It's not the same test they will be using in future years, so it's not giving data we can use to compare," Monks said, adding that this year's assessment was already developed by Riverside Publishing.
"This is only being done because No Child Left Behind requires all states to have a test — I don't know if it's going to provide us with any meaningful data," she said.
About 309,500 pupils in the state will take the NJASK test, according to the education department. The state appointed a panel to develop a "more educationally useful test" expected to be in place by next year, the department said.
"The state spends millions of dollars on these tests and we need more value from this investment than just a compliance tool for federal reporting requirements," Acting Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy said in a prepared statement.
"Schools should be able to use the results in the future to adjust their instructional practices so that students can achieve at higher levels," Davy said.
Clymer said he sees no reason to abandon the Terra Nova test that has been used in the past.
"It seems an unnecessary expense for the state in regards to distributing the test," he said, adding that time spent prepping and testing children takes away nearly three weeks of regular instruction.
Schools only recently found out about NJASK, Lafayette Superintendent Craig Hutcheson said.
"It was certainly sprung upon us quite late in the game — it was January before we knew what was going to happen, which put stress on the students, test coordinator and teachers," Hutcheson said.
The tests assess students' proficiency in language arts and mathematics, said Monica Orr, assistant principal and test coordinator at Lafayette Township School.
"We definitely teach to the curriculum, so we're not teaching to the test," Orr said. "We do make them familiar to the format of the test."
Hutcheson said schools are indirectly teaching toward the test because it is based on the state curriculum.
"Students are prepared for the test, but we don't do that because of the test — we do it because we want to be a good school district," he said. "We do have to teach how to take a test — we want the students to have a certain understanding of what to expect when they get that paper."
Standardized testing leads to comparing schools simply on their scores and not on other factors, Clymer said.
"You start to compare schools through the testing process, and that's wrong because everyone's an individual," he said.
"I understand it's a necessity and a federal and state mandate," he said. "However, as an educator, I believe this is a near-sighted criteria for measuring the success of schools."
Evaluation of a school's success should include other factors such as leadership, compassion, understanding, character development, community involvement and parental support, Sinclair said.
"We're not measuring it that way, we're measuring it by standardized tests and that's what's published," he said.
Hutcheson said the results of the mandatory testing would not change his opinion of his school.
"We feel we're a successful school without having the supplementary test telling us that," Hutcheson said. "Obviously we have to give the test because of No Child Left Behind — we'll follow the rules because we're rule-followers."
New Jersey Herald
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