Governor Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf want New Jersey to continue their educations or become productive employees.
It's pretty hard for anyone to argue with any attempt to boost the brain power of young people or ask them to prove that they have studied hard to earn their diplomas. But Christie and Cerf provided the concept, providing no specifics beyond the news that the program would begin when this year's fourth-graders start high school. The tests will be administered in ninth, 10th and 11th grades.
"It is an interesting plan in concept and anything that would improve student achievement is a good thing," said Paul Casarico, Principal of New Providence High School. "At this time the overall plan is not specific enough in terms of expectations and timelines to fully appreciate how it will affect what we do at the high school. Hopefully, specific guidelines will be coming in the near future to give a clearer picture. We continue to be committed to providing the best possible opportunities and education for students."
Dr. Nathan Parker, Superintendent of Summit schools, was less supportive.
"Unfortunately, there's no research that all this testing increases achievement, so I'm not so sure it's the place to emphasis," he said. "However, it's something you live with in this business.
"Standardized testing is a one-shot measure," Parker added. "It doesn't, in general, help achievement. The intent is good to raise standards and raise rigor, but it hasn't always had that impact."
In Union County Patch towns, where graduation rates range from 93.11 percent in Cranford to 97.79 in Clark, the topic doesn't raise many eyebrows. But in other districting facing falling graduation rates, this will generate controversy,
Christie said the proposed exams would ultimately replace the current High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), given for the past decade in 11th and 12th grades as a broader measure of language arts and math skills. The HSPA exams will continue for at least three more years, as will the the Alternate High School Assessment (AHSA), a controversial oral exam administered to students who didn't pass the HSPA exam. Proponents of the exam, credited by some as being a fair test for sudents with learning or language difficulties that make it impossible for them to pass written exams. Critics, however, claim the AHSA is nothing more than a social-promotion loophole that gets poor-performing students out of the district while padding graduation rates.
This week, Christie and Cerf reported a new methodology determines that 83 percent of New Jersey's Class of 2011 will graduate. They said the numbers are more accurate than the last year's graduation rate of 95 percent graduation, which was the highest in the country. The numbers were skewed, the pair said, because the stats were primarily reported by the districts themselves.
Educational experts say that today's auto mechanics need to have the reading comprehension of a college junior to master auto-maintenance manuals that are essentially computer-diagnostics textbooks. The reality is that it takes New Jersey college students an average of six years to graduate. That stat factors in many issues, from taking time to work and pay for college, as well as students needing remedial courses to prepare for the rest of their classes.
Still, as the details need to be worked out, Clark resident Robert F. Galgano has one other question.
"What happens if the kids don't pass the tests? Do they have to take the courses over? Will we see high school students on the five- or even six-year plan?"
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