Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Regents-like Assessments for NJ (and other states) in Sci and Math?

As I mentioned the other day I will continue to post about the American Diploma Project developed by Achieve which, IMO, will have a significant impact on curriculum and assessment in many states (26 out of 50 are currently members of this consortium). Whether we like it or not, a more standardized curriculum for math and science is coming and you all know my opinion on this. The following is excerpted from a statement by Lucille Davy, Commissioner of Education for NJ:

...However, we believe that New Jersey’s assessments must serve a purpose greater than simply meeting federal compliance requirements. As with all of our statewide tests, New Jersey’s science assessments must help ensure that students are prepared to compete for post-secondary educational opportunities and careers in a highly demanding global economy. Our science assessments in particular must provide an authentic link to that world by embodying and measuring the science skills that students must master to succeed in college courses and in their careers, as they compete for those opportunities against highly trained and highly motivated students from throughout the world.

...More so than language arts and other content areas, mathematics and the sciences demand discipline-specific instruction and assessment. Increasingly, states such as those involved in the American Diploma Project (ADP) consortium, of which New Jersey is a member, are deciding to implement end of course measures in science aligned to specific proficiencies in biology, physics, chemistry, and environmental science. ADP is also recommending that states consider such end of course assessments in the mathematics disciplines. Several states, such as Maryland and Indiana, already have such assessments in place.

In consultation with our partners in the 25-state ADP consortium and following more recent discussions in December 2006 with an advisory panel of New Jersey science educators and stakeholders, the New Jersey Department of Education will be moving to end of course science assessments, starting with biology in 2008. This direction will entail not merely a redesign of science testing specifications, but recommendations to the State Board for establishing specific course requirements in high school science, including a requirement that all students take biology...

This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. BTW, what do you think Commissioner Davy's reply would be to educators who argue that an Algebra 2 assessment for all (currently on the table) is unrealistic given the large population of children in the state who are functionally innumerate? Do we push for higher standards now or wait until 2014 when no child is left...
Food for thought... What do you think?


Jonathan said...

Regents? Like New York State Regents?

My state does not have personnel competent to design a course, or an assessment, let alone produce 3 per year for each course.

The Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State, AMTNYS, maintains a listserve that is worth looking at.

Timeline to help understand: Through the 80s we had mildly "integrated" courses called, creatively, Coure I, Course II, and Course III (the kind of geometry kids used algebra to do was in Course I, some of the harder algebra in Course II, stats and probability dispersed throughout, but still, essentially, A, G, T).

In the late '90s a new commissioner, Mills (who should resign in shame) introduced "performance-based" standards. Of course they made sense in some subject areas, but none in math. The exams that went along with this were called, creatively, Math A and Math B, and the state told teachers and administrators again and again that A and B were assessments, not courses (so what should we teach? never got a satisfactory answer to that one.)

The exams were bad, but phase in starts with volunteering districts. June 2003 was, I believe, the first A exam that all students needed to take, and it was a disaster. The formed a panel, and are in the process (4 years later!) of writing the first new exams (Algebra! Geometry! Trig!) which will start to roll out in a year and a half.

So, that listserve, those are teachers and admins, and involved and interested teachers and admins at that, writing. People are calmly waiting the death of A and B, so no fireworks today. But scroll back a few years, if you have a moment.

Or, for vanilla crud with no comments, I have a link to NYS Regents exams on the right of my blog.

Oh, and for all the crap you'll see about Math A, Math B is far worse.

sorry so long, I guess I feel a bit strongly about this one.

Do you trust your state to design a good course and a good exam? If you are not certain, I would be very careful.

Dave Marain said...

Whoa! I regret using the R-word in the title!

I have the same fear you do about the quality of such end-of-course assessments. Quality assessments must be developed by content and assessment specialists who have the time to construct, revise and edit, field test, etc. State committees of teachers or supervisors generally cannot do this. However, the quality of the product coming from a testing company is only as good as the quality and clarity of the standards on which the questions are based. What we currently have is a living example of 'garbage-in-garbage-out'! Vaguely worded standards that may or may not reflect all of the content that should be taught and often stated without clear examples to help the item writers develop appropriate items. We have to stop thinking in terms of NYS or NJ or CA or TX or...

I'm hoping that the states in this consortium agree to a standardized-type of test similar to the Subjects tests from ETS and I'm not here to promote any particular company. Clearly defined content, varied levels of difficulty and criterion-referenced. Not as challenging as an 'Achievement' Test but some quality control!

I am looking for a fresh approach to curriculum and assessment. As stated above, vaguely-defined standards lead to assessments that are of questionable quality and often mis-aligned with the intent of the committees that developed the standards. This is what Prof. Schmidt meant by chaos. Each state doing its own thing, setting its own standards (as if their math committees have a better handle on what students should know and be able to do), and developing its own assessments. That's the process I have no faith in, Jonathan!

Now what about the quality of Math I, Math II and the AP Math exams? Are the questions well-written? Are they aligned with the content of Alg, Geom and Precalculus that we would consider worth covering? If most of the courses for which End of Course exams are being proposed are truly college prep courses then these current tests can't be too far off from what we may be looking for. If the proposal is for ALL students to be able to takes these courses and be prepared to pass such an exam, that's another story. Commissioner Davy is saying ALL students will... We're not quite there yet! First we have to have Arithmetic for ALL and PreAlgebra for ALL before we demand Algebra 2 for ALL! Jonathan, despite my apparent simple-minded naivete here, I'm suggesting we need a paradigm shift in our thinking. If you were on the committee to set these standards (and me too if you'll let me!) then I would feel more comfortable about the process. Teachers need to be vocal here and demand that these national standards and assessment committees include several master teachers from the classroom. This is what I see lacking from the current constituencies. That's why I started this blog. To let the National Math Panel, Achieve and others know that we want to be represented. Without us, these projects will be doomed to failure just like all the others.

Jonathan said...


in New York they bring teachers onto all the panels... but with previously defined objectives that effectively straight-jacket the input.

The state by state chaos is a mess, but I'd like to have a better alternative, not just any alternative.

(I'm not knocking what you wrote, just saying I am cautious) It is an important discussion. And unfortunately, I expect important discussions to get rushed by officials who don't have time for getting things right, just for getting them done.