In an April 13 letter Education Law Center asked Commissioner Bret Schundler to set aside the results of last January’s Alternate High School Assessment (AHSA) after preliminary reports showed high failure rates that threaten June graduation prospects for thousands of seniors.

The scores are the first results since the Department of Education issued new guidelines for the alternative graduation test previously known as the special review assessment (SRA). In recent years, the SRA was used annually by about 11,000 seniors to earn their high school diplomas.

For the first time, Measurement, Inc. (MI), a state testing vendor, was responsible for overseeing the scoring of the alternative assessment. The preliminary AHSA score reports sent to districts at the end of March showed that:

  • Some 10,000 students were tested in January.
  • Statewide passing rates were just 10% in language arts and 34% in math
  • Only 3242 of 10,308 students tested received passing scores in the required four math standards. Only 428 of 4293 students tested received passing scores in the combined language arts and writing standards.
  • In 120 districts not a single student received a passing score in language arts.
  • In 40 districts not a single student received a passing score in math.
  • Pass rates for all district factor groups, from poor urban districts to wealthy suburban ones, were below 50% in math and 20% or less in language arts.

NJDOE did not officially release the results, in part because students can re-take the AHSA in April, and final passing rates could change. But the low initial passing rates across the state raised concerns that thousands of students will not graduate this June because of their test scores, even if they complete all course credits and other requirements.

According to NJDOE, the content of the alternate assessment has not changed. But the new administration and scoring procedures produced much different results.

Last April, NJDOE estimated that the alternative assessment had a failure rate of 4%. The January results showed initial failure rates of 90% in language arts and 66% in math.

In its letter to the Commissioner, ELC wrote, “These results strongly suggest that MI has implemented dramatically different criteria for evaluating the AHSA’s performance tasks than had been used in the past. The results raise serious questions about how MI determined the metrics and standards used for this year’s scoring; about the sampling and assessment practices used to verify these standards; and about the instructions and training given to educators who participated in MI supervised scoring sessions. There is also some uncertainty about how much of the actual scoring was conducted by MI staff and how much was done by certified NJ educators, as the State Board of Education had been told would be the case.”

ELC asked the Commissioner to take the following steps:

  1. Set aside the results of the January administration of AHSA until the DOE can complete a thorough review of the scoring process;
  2. Provide fiscal and administrative support for AHSA instructional programs this summer, including another test administration for all seniors who have completed the course credits and other requirements for graduation;
  3. Reinstate the option for local scoring with DOE audits for the April and summer administrations of the AHSA;
  4. Reconvene the SRA Advisory group to review the problems with this year’s process and make recommendations for a revised process for 2010-11.

Although ELC has not yet received a response, Commissioner Schundler is expected to address the issue at the April 21 State Board of Education meeting.

For more info contact:
Stan Karp, Director, Secondary Reform Project,
skarp@edlawcenter.org, 973.624.1815 ext.28.

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Sharon Krengel
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