By David Sciarra
June 1, 2015 – Governor Chris Christie has announced his Administration’s intention to replace the Common Core standards in language arts and mathematics while continuing to measure student achievement through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or “PARCC,” tests.
If new standards are implemented that deviate from the Common Core, on which the PARCC tests are based, the State assessments must also change. Otherwise the proposal will run afoul of the State’s obligation to ensure students a “thorough and efficient” education under the New Jersey Constitution.
The Governor’s plan, while short on detail, implicates the connection between New Jersey’s curriculum standards and assessments, an issue at the center of the decades-long legal struggle to provide a constitutional education to all students, especially those in poverty, with language barriers and with disabilities.
In 1997, the New Jersey Supreme Court – in its landmark Abbott v. Burke IV opinion – decided that the Legislature’s newly adopted “standards-based” approach to education substantively defined “a constitutional thorough and efficient education.” The Court also approved implementation of State curriculum standards in language arts, mathematics and five other content areas – the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) – and a new set of State assessments at the fourth, eighth and eleventh grades to measure student performance in meeting the CCCS.
In Abbott IV, the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional education includes both the State’s curriculum content standards and its assessment system. Most importantly, Abbott IV makes clear that State assessments to measure student performance on the CCCS must be tied to or, in education terms, “aligned” with the CCCS.
This link is crucial to ensure New Jersey students are tested only on the specific curriculum content actually taught in classrooms and are afforded maximum exposure to, and the opportunity to learn, the content to be measured by the State.
As the Court found in Abbott IV, the State’s curriculum standards “provide achievement goals applicable to all students” and the State’s assessments must be “based” on those standards. The Court further ruled that this integrated system “is essential to the success” of the State’s “standards-based approach….for it is designed to measure student progress toward achievement of the substantive standards and provide educators and administrators with the information to take corrective action in those areas where students are failing to achieve at the prescribed levels.”
In 2010, the State Board of Education (SBOE) modified the CCCS by replacing the State-developed standards in language arts and mathematics with the nationally developed Common Core. In 2012, the SBOE also authorized the replacement of New Jersey-specific tests in these subjects with the PARCC tests, assessments developed by a national consortium designed to measure student performance on the Common Core. The new PARCC tests were administered for the first time this spring.
Governor Christie now wants to end the use of the Common Core standards in language arts and mathematics and replace them with new, as yet undeveloped, New Jersey-based standards. He also wants to continue using the PARCC tests, which are specifically tied to the Common Core standards.
If the new standards are not aligned with State tests, Governor Christie’s plan would break the link between New Jersey’s language arts and mathematics standards and its assessments of student performance, a link which the Supreme Court has deemed essential for a thorough and efficient education.
The Governor’s plan could also lead to testing students on curriculum content that they have not been afforded a meaningful opportunity to learn. This would be patently unfair to our students and their teachers and strike at the heart of New Jersey’s standards-based approach to education, an approach found constitutional in 1997, and in place for almost two decades.
David Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center and represents the Plaintiff students in the Abbott v. Burke case.
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