Today my son (and the rest of the junior class) take the NJGPA (New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment). This is the FIRST time that the test will be given and yes, my son is apprehensive. (As parents so are we.) Again, this is the first year that the test is required for graduation and as recently as last week the New Jersey Assembly Education Panel pushed ahead to prohibit this as a requirement for graduation stating:
“From mental health concerns to learning delays, our students have been through a lot and what they need now is our support, not the anxiety and stress that comes with taking a new high-stakes assessment test your school career would depend on.
Counting the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment this year will create barriers to graduation for many students who have faced challenges over the last two years. It is unfair and unconscionable to spring a new test on rising seniors and raise the stakes as they are so close to graduation.”
Nonetheless, these test will be administered over the next 4 days (2 hours per day) to high school juniors. For some this will be easy. For others this will be difficult. For just about all this will be stressful. No matter how my son does (pass or fail), it will NOT reflect what he knows or what he is capable of. No standardized test ever has or ever will.
We have received several notifications about this test from the high school. All of which have said the following: “There are multiple pathways for students to meet their graduation requirements. The first pathway where students can meet this requirement is by successfully demonstrating proficiency on the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA) in Grade 11 on the dates listed below. In order for students to use secondary pathways to meet NJ graduation requirements, students in grade 11 must first attempt to take the NJGPA. For this reason, all Grade 11 students must take the NJGPA.” (My emphasis on the word “must.”)
So if you are not a good test taker (or more specifically standardized test taker), you first MUST FAIL before alternate options would be considered. This year’s junior class has spent more than a quarter of their freshman year navigating “remote learning” (which no one had ever done). All of their sophomore year consisted of flopping back and forth between remote learning and hybrid classes with half days in school and afternoons remote or all day remote and then full day hybrid. Only last week were they finally able to remove the masks required to keep them healthy during the pandemic which thankfully now seems to be fading into an endemic. Now is the perfect time to shove them into brand new (never been tried) standardized testing.
I have NEVER been a fan of this kind of testing; although I do fully admit that we need some “standard” in order to determine if a student is ready and able to graduate, I just don’t know what that is. Furthermore, I have found that these tests do NOT accurately reflect what my son knows and is capable of. Last fall he took the 2021 Start Strong Assessment and in mathematics his “score” indicated that “some support may be needed.” No surprise there; he’s not been a strong math student (especially in middle school), HOWEVER he finished Algebra I (which is where they say he needs support) with a B-, Geometry with an A- and currently has a B average for Algebra II. So if he needs some support for Algebra I (as indicated by this standardized test), why is he doing relatively well in Algebra II? (I’ll be the first to admit that I graduated from this same high school nearly 40 years ago, barely passing Algebra II and I also did not do well on standardized testing while being in the top 20 of my graduating class.)
As I see it, this test proves nothing and yet it will determine if my son and his classmates will graduate (no matter how they are doing IN the classroom). Although there are other “pathways” (and I don’t know what they are) to graduation, you first MUST FAIL in order to be able to pursue those other paths (again, I don’t know what they are…I haven’t seen them shared but maybe someone out there know). For those who KNOW that they are poor test takers, this must be nerve wracking and soul crushing. I have trying to downplay this in our house, but I know anxiety is there. I wonder, for an educational system that so claims to focus on good mental health, why are we thrusting this unproven “assessment” on an already stressed out junior class? (If you have a high school junior who is NOT stressed out, I’d like to talk you to you and find out what miracle has happened in your house.)
My takeaway for the next four days? My junior gets 4 days of stress where he needs to work his “test taking skills” and loses valuable time in a real classroom with teachers who do their jobs well. (Thank you teachers.) He passes; okay. He fails; we’ll find another way. Of course we don’t know what that way is and certainly “failure” will be spirit crushing and destroy any semblance of self-confidence and good mental health that exists. I see no winners in any scenario. Unless of course, you are Pearson (the company behind the NJGPA).
Beth Shorten is a life-long resident of Verona. For more than seven years, she has been chronicling life here on her personal site, Bfth’s Boring Blog. This piece was published there on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.