Education Law Center says high school test scores show ‘modest improvement’; Education Dept. refutes ELC criticisms

TRENTON – The Education Law Center said Monday while it’s pleased to see there was improvement in the number of students who passed the Alternative High School Assessment when they took it in December, there is still a lot of room for progress.

The AHSA was taken by some 10,000 seniors last December. Initial passing rates for December’s AHSA improved over last year’s low rates, the Education Eepartment said, with about 37 percent of students passing both the math and language arts exams.

Last year, 34 percent passed the math test, but only 10 percent passed Language Arts.

ELC said the test was “poorly administered” last year when the test was administer by state testing vendor Measurement Inc. instead of local school districts, and approximately 3,000 students didn’t receive their diplomas.

While test scores have improved, the ELC said it still leaves many seniors at risk of not graduating.

The ELC said the state Education Department needs to do a better job of accounting for the thousands of students who didn’t receive their diplomas. It said that some of those students passed the AHSA when they took it in the summer. Others dropped out, while some may have returned to school last fall, the ELC said.

The DOE has not reliably tracked these students, even though their outcomes were a direct result of changes in state assessment policy, according to ELC.

“At a time when NJDOE is framing virtually every education statistic to advance Gov. (Chris) Christie’s proposals for charters, vouchers, merit pay and budget cuts, the absence of attention to this test-driven increase in high school dropouts is striking,” said Stan Karp, director of ELC’s Secondary Reform Project.

The way the AHSA is distributed could be improved, and the ELC has some suggestions, which include enabling students to take the AHSA sooner.

Other concerns expressed by ELC include:

*Lack AHSA scoring by certified state educators

*Lack of AHSA information sessions last fall.

*Students missing class time because they had to take the test twice

*School districts scrambling to translate test materials into languages, including Chinese and Arabic.

*Math educators raised questions about the accuracy of some AHSA performance tasks and preparatory materials. Several items were revised and reissued by the Department.

The Department of Education disagreed with many of the Center’s claims.

For example, DOE said the Election Law Center’s claims about the DOE’s tracking of students who had failed the Alternative High School Assessment are inaccurate. It said it did indeed keep track, and found that 79 percent of the students passed the math section and 56 percent passed the language arts test. The students were given multiple opportunities to take that test, according to DOE spokesman Alan Guenther.

The department took issue with ELC’s other claims, including that it didn’t provide enough information sessions. Guenther said a Webinar had been available through the DOE’s website all year long, where individuals could ask questions.

Guenther said it is false that scoring of the tests was done by a vendor as a cost-saving measure. He said the state Board of Education had expressed concerns about the credibility of the test results, especially given that teachers had been grading the tests (known as Special Review Assessments during the Corzine years) taken by their own students. Some 96 percent of those students passed the exam, according to Guenther.

The individuals grading the AHSA are certified, he said.

The Education Department also took issue with ELC’s claim regarding tests being given in other languages besides English, which lead to school districts having to “scramble,” according to ELC. Guenther said that accommodation was given to help students feel more comfortable taking the test in their native language.

Education Law Center says high school test scores show ‘modest improvement’; Education Dept. refutes ELC criticisms