State explores possible replacement for key high school proficiency test

HOPEWELL – At a roundtable discussion today, Gov. Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the state is exploring a possible replacement for the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), the state’s reading, writing, and math exam for high school juniors.

Christie and Cerf were talking with four school superintendents at the Hopewell Valley Central High School about the first release of the Education Transformation Task Force report, which among other things recommends certain deregulations and easing of state codes governing schools.

The report was largely focused on building – and in some cases tearing down and re-building – the state’s school accountability and achievement monitoring systems to match what Christie is calling a renewed focus on student achievement.

Cerf zoned in on the term “college and career ready,” which schools say their graduates are. But figuring out the best way to measure student readiness, Cerf said, is now the foremost job of the state. “I don’t know enough to recommend to the governor a particular set of solutions on that,” Cerf said.

The department wants to be “very, very clear about what success looks like,” Cerf said, in order to create goals that the state can hold schools and teachers accountable to. “That is how you measure everything.”

The state is preparing a request for proposals to private vendors who own popular tests like ACT and SAT, as well as taking suggestions from education stakeholders.

As part of the process, New Brunswick Superintendent Richard Kaplan said the state should ask itself what matters most post-high school – even if the answer runs contrary to the “hoax” or “myth,” Kaplan said, that reading, writing, and math are sole indicators of academic success. Larrie Reynolds, superintendent of the Mount Olive school district, said among the deficiencies of the HSPA exam is its exclusion of science curriculum.

Cerf said he “completely dismantled” the entire education department and restructured it to align with Christie’s goals – namely basing every decision on how it affects student achievement – including creating four new, streamlined offices: accountability and performance, talent, accountability and standards, and innovation. Cerf called these four staples the “four levers of success,” and said he is “maniacal” about the new focus on student success.

The task force recommends seeking a federal waiver of federal “No Child Left Behind” requirements, a system that commonly comes under criticism in New Jersey. Christie said the state will take its time to prepare the waiver, making sure it is bulletproof before sending it to Washington D.C.

Christie said the most useful part of the NCLB program are the data sets that have been assembled, which can now be used to inform proposed changes.

Some of the proposed changes in the report and in Christie’s agenda do not require legislative approval, like some code and regulation work. Other items need legislative approval, and still others need state Board of Education approval.

On dealing with the Democratic Legislature, Christie said, “Whether I get 41 and 21 on it, we’ll just have to wait and see. That’s why you pay to watch the movie.”

The final report of the task force is expected to be submitted by December 31, 2011.

Earlier coverage:

State unveils plan for streamlining education

State explores possible replacement for key high school proficiency test