Parents Question Need for State Standardized Tests
While Jefferson's test scores are mostly in line with state averages, some wonder how useful the exams are.
Jefferson Township’s state test scores are, in many cases, directly in line with the state average and for the district’s district factor group (DFG), a system provided by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) that ranks school districts by socioeconomic status.
But many parents in the township said they are unsure of the tests’ usefulness.
Elementary and middle school students did better in language arts than in math, according to the scores. Students in grades three - eight came in over the state average for language arts. In Math, students in grades three, four, six, seven and eight came in above the state average, and close to the DFG.
At the high school, students did not perform as well as the state average or DFG average in language arts or math on the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA).
The tests are divided into general education students and total students, which includes those in special education classes.
The total student population in Jefferson scored 93.4 percent proficient in language arts, while the state scored 96.1 percent. General education students came in with 99.1 percent proficient to the state’s 99.2 percent.
In math, 80.1 percent of the total student population scored proficient, as opposed to the state’s 87.6 percent. In the general education category, Jefferson scored 89.8 percent proficient to the state’s 95 percent.
The full results are available on the district’s web site.
“In most cases, we are very close to schools in a similar socioeconomic status to use,” said Dr. Mary Thornton, assistant superintendent for curriculum.
Thornton said the district revised the math curriculum for grades 3 to 5 during the 2011-12 school year to “reflect current research and revised core curriculum standards.” The same is being done for the high school math and K-12 language arts curricula during the current school year.
Several parents told Jefferson Patch that the test scores simply aren’t that important to them.
“I don’t like these tests,” Alyson Music, mother of a sixth- and eighth-grader, said. “They are not a true reflection of a child’s skills. They aren’t geared to individualized kids.”
“I place a great value on these scores for my own kids, but I don’t see how you can judge a whole school district on them. What if a kid is having a bad day or just not feeling up to par? They may not perform well,” said Janet Hirschman, mother of a high school sophomore and eighth-grader.
Parents also felt that the district spends too much time teaching to the test, preparing the students for state testing, sometimes at the sacrifice of other curriculum materials.
“You need to teach to success, not to a test,” Lisa Swerzenski, mother of a junior, senior and college freshman, said. “I think the district needs to better prepare kids for college, and start that work earlier. My son in the Morris County School of Technology has already started college essays in his junior year. My daughter who is a senior in Jefferson hasn’t started them yet.”
Kerry Colgan, mother of a high school junior and eighth-grader, agreed.
“Teachers spend too much time teaching to the NJASK, and I’m more worried about SAT scores, quite frankly. These kids need to be prepared for the SATs.”
Kathy Valva, mother of a sophomore at the Morris County School of Technology and a college sophomore, noted that it takes more than good test scores to make a good school.
“State tests aren’t the be-all and end-all of a district,” she said. “They have to take the whole environment of the school into account as well.”