An education advocacy group says a new report showing New Jersey students are making widespread gains on state standardized tests is evidence the state shouldn’t step away from rigorous assessments as it works toward a replacement for its current system.

JerseyCAN says the number of students demonstrating proficiency in language arts and math is increasing across all subgroups, including race, socioeconomic status and special needs, and that the number of students opting out of the tests – formerly known as PARCC, now called the NJSLA – is down significantly, after being a raging controversy four years ago.

“Growth can be seen across student groups, and New Jersey is leading the nation in closing achievement gaps,” said Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN.

Morgan said it’s “a national success story” that between 2015 and 2018, the number of students exceeding or meeting expectations grew by 110,000 in English language arts and 85,000 in math.

“In what other industry would we be looking at 10 to 15 percentage point gains and talking about scrapping an entire test or an entire program and starting from the very beginning all over again?” Morgan said. “We believe that we’ve got the good ingredients for success. We need to just figure out the correct recipe to make sure that all students are achieving academic proficiency.”

Morgan said the report did find that achievement gaps persist for underserved students, pointing in particular to data from Paterson, Trenton, Camden and Asbury Park.

“While these cities have excellent graduation rates, their performance on state assessments, specifically the graduation tests of ELA 10 and Algebra 1, is really abysmal,” she said.

The use of the NJSLA or PARCC as a graduation requirement has been a subject of dispute for years, culminating with an appeals court invalidating the state’s rules in December because the high school exit exam wasn’t being administered in the 11th grade.

The old graduation qualifications, which include a passing score on an alternative standardized test like the SAT, have been restored for students through the Class of 2022 while a long-term plan is developed.

“My biggest concern is moving towards an assessment that isn’t fully aligned to our standards and waters down expectations for students,” Morgan said.

The JerseyCAN report offers recommendations in four key areas as changes to the assessment system are considered: commitment and philosophy, alignment with college and careers, technical details and costs, and implementation.

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