Cranford official questions standardized test change

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Cranford schools Assistant Superintendent Brian Heineman addresses the local school board regarding standardized testing. Heineman gave a presentation on the district’s spring state standardized test results while also updating board members on Trenton’s latest update on replacing the current standardized test.

CRANFORD, N.J. — Assistant Superintendent Brian Heineman doubts whether the state will have a new standardized test ready in time for this year’s high school freshmen to use as a graduation requirement, given the timeline revealed by state officials to replace the current test.

“We won’t really know the reality of this until they’re on this testing year,” Heineman told the Cranford school board at its Oct. 14 meeting. “In fact, we might be in one of those situations where we might have groups of students absolved from testing requirements until the state can fully vet. They cannot make the graduation requirement until they go through that pilot year. So, I would be very shocked if they retroactively allowed or disallowed it for students.”

The remarks came during Heineman’s presentation of last spring’s PARCC/NJSLA standardized test results. In order to graduate, New Jersey students were formerly required to pass the PARCC test, which was replaced by the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, or NJSLA last spring. But the graduation requirement was struck down by the state courts and students may now use their scores from one of a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT, to graduate.

“One of the things that was unveiled relatively recently was, how would we transition away from the NJSLA assessment to what the state has termed ‘the next generation of assessments,’” Heineman said at the meeting. “So, you may recall, we’ve talked about the next-generation science standards. That is the timeline they gave to us recently, and it will be a three-year rollout, 2019 to 2021. In the 2021-22 school year, there will be field testing in grades two to nine and 11. The ‘graduation’ assessment will be the 11th grade assessment.”

Heineman said he has doubts about the current set of assessments, particularly for high school students, because their standardized test scores can sometimes vary greatly from their class performance.

“At the higher level grades, the results are suspicious, at best, because we really had a mixed bag,” he said.

A chart Heineman provided at the meeting showed the possible PARCC/NJSLA evaluation scores, with 5 being the highest and 1 being the lowest.

“A student in grade three who is scoring 4 or 5 is on the right trajectory, can continue onto high school, and be college and career ready. The state really relies on 4 and 5 for passing; 3 is this odd middle ground. The good news is, when we have a student whose grades struggle or sees difficulties, most of the time, we’re seeing the kids end up here,” he said, pointing to Level 3 on the chart.
Heineman emphasized that it does not take many changes in student performance to shift from a 5 to a 4 or from a 4 to a 3, and that performance differences may be contingent on minor factors that are not consistent with a student’s academic performance.

“Overall, as a district, we tend to be about 20 points ahead of the state,” he said, referring to PARCC/NJSLA scores.

The numbers 1 through 5 is a rubric to evaluate a student’s success on all the subtests, while each test within the overall test is graded with points; the number of points per test varies by grade. The scores are typically better in English language arts, with mathematics generally being the weaker subject for most students, Heineman said. Livingston Avenue School students passed with the highest scores in the district and Brookside Place School students scored above the district average.

In his report, Heineman said Cranford students in grades three through 10 performed consistently higher than state averages in English and language arts. Students also performed higher in math than state averages, with the exceptions being in grades five and eight, and the algebra II test. Female students outperformed male students in the PARCC/NJSLA subgroups, with the average score for female students being 57.8, and 56 for males.

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Cranford school board members mull data of students’ results from the spring on the New Jersey standardized testing assessment.

Veronica Doyle, a parent and BOE candidate, inquired at the meeting about the iReady program, an online assessment that claims to provide individualized instruction for students, and whether parents can get the results of those tests.

“If those kids are struggling, or if they’re on the cusp of struggling and the parent is not knowing or waiting for the teacher to reach out to us, aren’t we doing a disservice to the kids?” she asked. “I hear what you’re saying, you don’t want to stress them out because it’s an assessment, but you don’t want them to continue to lag behind or be on that cusp of lagging behind. Sometimes, more information is better.”

Heineman said the fall iReady results will be given to parents at conferences, and the spring results will be sent home at the end of the year.