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Trenton -- Calling New Jersey’s current testing and standards for students a failure for teachers, parents and pupils, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey on Monday said the state must overhaul its standards to create clear and consistent guidelines for what every child must be taught in every grade and establish assessments that match the subject matter.

“The current system fails to give teachers, students or parents a clear and coherent set of expectations for what they are expected to teach and learn in each year and it fails to establish a successful system to test how well we are achieving our goals,” stated Mr. McGreevey. “We must continually strive for excellent schools, not just good schools, so that a year of schooling equals a year of learning for each and every student.”

The “report card” on New Jersey’s standards and assessments includes a “D+” from Education Week coupled with a national ranking of 31st of 50 states; a description of the standards as “among the worst in the nation” by the Fordham Foundation; and a detailed list of deficiencies by Achieve Inc., an organization hired by the state to evaluate the standards and 4th, 8th, and 11th grade statewide tests.

McGreevey noted that the report from Achieve Inc. assailed the state’s failure to set any literacy standard for kindergarten through third grade and for using standards that are “often vague, and in general lack the specificity needed to serve as a guide to assessment.” McGreevey said that the disjointed system for standards and assessments has created a practice of “teaching to the test,” which wastes classroom time and fails to gauge the needs of students.

Calling the current situation “absolutely unacceptable,” McGreevey said his first act as governor will be the appointment of a blue-ribbon panel of experts comprised of classroom teachers, administrators, testing experts, parents, and business leaders to report to him within 120 days with a set of standards that rival the best in the nation. This panel will be empowered to use experts in the seven core curriculum areas to establish “New Jersey Standards for Educational Excellence.”

McGreevey announced a six-point framework for revamping standards to better prepare children for the future and for holding schools accountable:

  1. End the practice of delineating standards by clusters and set standards for each individual grade, whether we have tests in that grade or not;
  2. Standards must be linked directly to testing or other assessment tools used by the state and school districts;
  3. Professional development must be provided so that teachers understand and can implement the standards-based approach. Many current teachers were not trained this way;
  4. Curriculum must be revised to reflect changes in standards and assessments with the state providing assistance for districts that need help;
  5. Revise tests to make sure that scoring and length are rigorous but appropriate for the students’ grade level and age. All tests, scoring guides and examples of student work will be released to ensure that teachers and parents can better understand the process.Test results will be also provided in a timely fashion.
  6. Statewide testing of reading, writing and mathematics only. Local districts (with state monitoring) would assess other subject areas using a flexible approach that would allow for tools other than standardized pencil and paper test.

McGreevey also said that once the 120 days elapse and the new standards are in place, he will ask the panel to develop a process for establishing standards and assessments for each grade, as well as for computer science and technology.

“To compete in the rapidly-evolving international marketplace, our children must be computer literate,” McGreevey said.

Some of the more detailed criticisms of the state’s standards and assessments leveled by educators working within the system and outside experts who have evaluated New Jersey’s schools include inadequate standards for language arts, a lack of clarity at varied grade levels, the absence of continuity in requirements for reading, writing and literature, and insufficient content for math and language arts. The analysis by Achieve found that the state has failed to identify the knowledge and skills most important for students to master, a fundamental shortcoming that could undermine the primary purpose of having standards and assessments.



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