Tim Matheney is skeptical. The South Brunswick High School principal said that today's students need an updated exit exam, but he is concerned that the will not help at-risk students.
The proposal, which Gov. Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf announced earlier this week, is designed to increase graduation rates by replacing the existing High School Proficiency Exam with 12 new statewide assessment tests taken over four years. The Department of Education says the HSPA is no longer an accurate measure of a graduating high school senior’s academic ability.
Christie and Cerf want New Jersey high schools to produce college and career-ready graduates, not just to churn out students who lack real-life skills. According to the DOE, although the state has an 83 percent graduation rate, 90 percent of graduates entering Bergen or Essex county colleges and one third of graduates entering Rutgers University need remedial classes in their first year.
The new tests, which will be administered to ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-graders, will cover math, science, language arts, and social studies. With the new tests, Cerf hopes “to make a New Jersey high school diploma the gold standard for the country.”
Matheney said there is room for improved testing.
“The HSPA was rigorous," he said, "but there is room for more rigor."
However, he is worried that the tests will do nothing for at-risk youth in his school.
“We don’t necessarily need to test more,” he said, “We need to ask what are we doing for at-risk kids. How are we helping them to meet these higher standards?”
South Brunswick Township has a graduation rate of 95 percent. East Brunswick’s graduation rate is 97 percent. New Brunswick’s graduation rate is 59 percent.
Superintendents in East Brunswick and New Brunswick said it was too early to comment on the changes.
Matheney said traditional standardized testing is a double-edged sword because schools may not receive results for months, and are then in the tough position of trying to adjust the curriculum to the needs of the students once the data does come back.
Under this reform, test scores will not officially count towards graduation rate data until students who are currently in fourth grade enter high school. At that point, the DOE will have had five years of data as well as set procedures for administering the tests. However, students who are currently in eighth grade will take the exams next year for data purposes.
Christie said the new tests will offer a more meaningful “measure” for N.J. high school diplomas, but Matheney said that hasn’t been an issue in South Brunswick before.
“My expertise is in South Brunswick diplomas,” he said, “And they are very well respected already.”