Not Much Time for Christie’s Standardized Test Commission

By Briana Vannozzi

They’ve got a big job, and not a lot of time to get it done. Members of Gov. Chris Christie’s appointed commission to study the use of student standards-based testing have just a handful of weeks before their first round of recommendations are due.

“What makes it tricky is they have to have or they should have public hearings to get input from parents and community leaders and students too, so it puts them on a tight schedule that’s for sure,” said New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer.

It’s a diverse bunch led by the acting Education Commissioner David Hespe and made up of teachers, a principal and superintendent, college president and members of the state PTA and Chamber of Commerce. Both allies and critics of the governor are represented.

“The commissioner has been reaching out now trying to coordinate something among the people who have been selected within the next couple of days,” said Jersey City Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles.

Lyles is one of those members. The task is highly politicized. They’ll look at the impact of standardized tests on students and school instruction. They’ll also review the use of Common Core Standards — adopted in 2010 — which the new state tests, called PARCC, are based.

“Most of the teachers I’ve spoken to when I visit their classrooms or in other conversations, they support the Common Core,” said Lyles. “But there is a concern about the readiness level.”

Critics, including parents and teachers, say the state hasn’t given enough time to “unpack the standards” — a term commonly thrown around in education circles. They say schools are overrun with tests and worry about the stress it induces. We reached out to the Department of Education to see if deadlines would be pushed back, but they didn’t return our requests in time for this report.

“The commission should have been appointed four months ago. PARCC is kicking in this spring, not a long time to get to act on any recommendations,” said Save Our Schools NJ volunteer Julia Sass Rubin.

Rubin’s group Save Our Schools plans to form an alternate commission that would conduct a separate study.

The first PARCC tests will begin in March for students in grades 3-11 where they’ll be tested on English and math. The question is, how effective can this group be at giving a full assessment in the time they have?

“We’re running into the holidays right now, so I’m not sure what they can really get done on that initial report,” Steinhauer said.

A final report is due in seven months. What exactly will be on it is anyone’s guess