Some school superintendents in Mercer County are taking a wait-and-see approach to Gov. Chris Christie's proposed changes in state graduation requirements, saying the added testing may not be necessary.
Superintendents Edward Forsthoffer of East Windsor Regional School District and Judy Wilson of Princeton said they are reviewing the reforms outlined Tuesday by the governor and Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to determine what kind of impact they might have on local students.
Under the reforms, the state's public high school students will have to pass 12 statewide assessment tests before graduation. The changes will be phased in over the next five years beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, and will be in full effect by 2017, when today's fourth-graders enter high school.
Christie and Cerf, who presented the changes in a joint-announcement at West-Windsor Plainsboro High School North, said they are part of an effort to ensure that graduating students are college or career-ready.
According to the state Department of Education, the state graduation rate is 83 percent, but 90 percent of graduates entering Bergen or Essex county colleges and one third of graduates entering Rutgers University need remedial classes in their first year.
Cerf said that passing the new tests as a requirement for graduation will “make a New Jersey high school diploma the gold standard for the country.”
Forsthoffer said that he has not seen specifics on the changes but added the notion of a gold standard tied to testing is questionable.
“What colleges are most interested in are the transcripts of a student, not where the diploma came from,” he said.
Other factors, such as community involvement, SAT or ACT scores and rigor of coursework, determine whether a student gets into college, he said.
“If the end of course exams are more rigorous,” Forsthoffer said, “then I imagine New Jersey may have more students not graduating. In that way, I suppose the diplomas mean more.”
Wilson sees end-of-course testing as a good way to judge students’ performance in core-curriculum classes, but a broader standardized testing mandate could be overkill.
“I am concerned about students taking too many standardized tests,” she said. “No standardized test should be a test that a teacher ‘teaches to.’"
Testing should be secondary to the value of teachers in the classroom.
“No test promotes better learning,” Wilson said. “Only great instruction does.”
The new tests, which will be administered to ninth, tenth and eleventh graders, will cover math, science, language arts and social studies.
While passing the tests will not officially be part of graduation requirements until 2017, students currently in eighth grade will take the exams next year for data-collection purposes.