Frequently Asked Questions Of The Office Of Evaluation and Assessment

Q. What is the purpose of the statewide assessments?
A. The purpose of New Jersey’s state assessments is to promote and measure educational achievement, by helping to show how well New Jersey schools are doing in helping students achieve the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) at each benchmark grade level. Score reports are useful in helping pinpoint weaknesses not only for the individual student but also at the programmatic level for the school or district. Educators throughout the country are committed to the principle that regular assessments are essential to informing meaningful and progressive educational practice. That commitment is embodied in both federal and state law. A "high stakes" or "gateway" test such as the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) is intended to ensure that New Jersey students have the knowledge and skills they need in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that await them upon graduation from high school.

Q. How are the assessments developed?
A. The statewide assessments are developed through an intensive collaboration among NJDOE assessment specialists, New Jersey classroom teachers and administrators, and a testing vendor (such as Pearson Educational Measurement, ETS, Measurement Incorporated, Harcourt Assessment, Riverside Publishing and others). The testing vendor is chiefly responsible for the production, distribution, scoring, and reporting of the assessments, but the actual test content is closely supervised by NJ DOE staff and committees of New Jersey educators who ensure that every test question – or "item" as they are usually called -- is aligned with New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards, grade appropriate, fairly and clearly presented, and devoid of any bias that would disadvantage one or more subgroups of test-takers. The tests comprise a combination of multiple choice and open-ended items. Every item is field-tested before it is used on a regular statewide test. Statistics about the "performance" of that item are carefully reviewed by the NJDOE for signs of weakness in item construction or fairness and weak items are eliminated or revised.

Q. Who scores the state assessments?
A. The statewide assessments are scored by the state’s testing contractors. Multiple choice items are scored by high-speed optical scanners; the open-ended items are scored by trained readers employed by the contractor. All such scorers possess, at a minimum, a college degree in an appropriate discipline. Furthermore, they receive rigorous training and supervision to ensure consistency and accuracy, based on the scoring rubrics developed by the NJDOE content specialists and committee members. The NJDOE administers regular quality control reviews to ensure that the test scores are valid and reliable.

Q. Why can’t parents or teachers see the tests, or see them after our children have taken them?
A. The test development process summarized above is rigorous and highly technical, requiring a significant fiscal investment by the state, and, ultimately, by its citizens. To reduce costs, New Jersey reuses its test items over several years. This means that the security of most test content must be maintained. Releasing the text of the annual assessments would require the development of totally new tests each year, which would be prohibitively expensive. However, fully representative sample tests for most programs have been released by the state in printed and electronic form. Test specifications and other informational materials, also available on the DOE Web site, contain numerous illustrative examples of test questions for each grade and content area.

Q. Which subject areas are tested by the state, and at which grade levels?
A. As of 2005, New Jersey administers assessments in mathematics and language arts literacy (which includes writing as well as reading) at grades 3, 4, ,8, and high school (11/12). In addition, science assessments are administered in grades 4 and 8. In 2006, the NJDOE will be administering assessments in mathematics and language arts literacy at grades 5, 6, and 7 but they will be field-tests only. They will become regular operational assessments starting in 2007. Finally, a science component will be added to the HSPA starting in 2007.

Q. Don’t statewide assessments encourage "teaching to the test"?
A. The statewide assessments are aligned to New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS). If schools and teachers are using the CCCS as the basis for classroom instruction, then there should be no problem of a distorted "teaching to the test" since, by design, teaching to the test would mean teaching these standards.

Q. What allowances are made for the particular needs of special education and limited English proficient students?
A. A wide range of accommodations are afforded limited English proficient (LEP) and special education students during the administration of the statewide tests. These accommodations may range from more time or the use of a dictionary to the provision, in the case of vision-impaired students, of a Braille form of the test booklet. Detailed descriptions of the accommodations and related policies are included in assessment informational materials and on the DOE web site. In addition, a portfolio-based assessment, the Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA), has been developed to measure the progress of students with severe cognitive disabilities.