Before I dive in, I want to take some time to look at what the recent proposals tell us about Governor Christie and his Department of Education.
NJ Spotlight had a great overview of how the new high school testing plan was presented to the press:
Christie on Monday unveiled a plan to replace the High School Proficiency Assessment -- students get three chances to pass it, beginning in the spring of junior year -- with end-of-course exams in language arts and math at the 9th, 10th and 11th grade levels. The HSPA only measures skills at an 8th grade level, the governor said. The state may also recommend science and social studies tests.
The next day, the DOE released data showing the percentage of 2011 graduates in each district who passed the HSPA, as well as those who were exempt from taking it and those who completed an alternate assessment. Statewide, 82.2 percent of graduates had passed the HSPA, while 14.3 percent had completed the alternate assessment and 3.5 percent were exempt from testing. (emphasis mine)
Their piece included a document that showed the percentage of vocational and charter school students that pass the HSPA. I couldn't help but notice that Camden's LEAP Academy Charter School was on the list, and was blown away by what I saw.
Some of you may remember I spent a bit of time looking into the "success" of LEAP Academy after I testified before the Assembly Education Committee hearing in February. LEAP students were paraded before the committee as examples of how charter schools are the best (only?) hope for the students in places like Camden, and any semblance of local control would potentially destroy the "success" of the charter school movement.
LEAP Academy's biggest claim to fame is that they graduate 100% of their senior class. This apparently has not changed, even with the new formula which has significantly changed the graduation rates for other districts and charters. What doesn't seem to get any attention however is that apparently only 56.9% of those students can pass the HSPA, compared with 82.2% statewide, and that the other 43.1% graduate by taking the AHSA, by appeal or "other means".
NJ Spotlight had another great piece about how students feel about the idea of the changes to testing requirements. They spoke with students in West Windsor Plainsboro, where Christie announced the new testing plan. Here is what one student had to say about the HSPA:
Let's back that up a minute, Governor. It's about accountability? Are you for real?
LEAP is being held up as a model of what charters can do for students, but only 56.9% of them can pass the test you say is at an 8th grade level!?! Nonetheless, LEAP touts a 100% graduation rate and gets showered with praise from legislators, the Department of Education, and the NJ Charter Schools Association and endowed with new facilities to the tune of 12.5 million. And not only that, they use their graduation rate as a club to beat the Camden Public Schools, the schools that actually have to try to teach the ESL and LEP students LEAP doesn't seem to serve.
So much for accountability...
Then this morning there was an amazing opinion piece in the Asbury Park Press that nailed the problem right on the head.
Christie says too many graduates leave high school unprepared for their next step, and that these changes are aimed at correcting that.
We can’t argue with that. But the way to accomplish that isn’t by simply ratcheting up the demands and waiting to see how it all shakes out.
Raising the bar is a wonderful concept unless it’s being used primarily as a weapon to exclude more people from reaching a certain level of achievement. If Christie simply wants to chop the graduation rates down a few notches and leave more students without diplomas, that’s an irresponsible approach to reform.
Christie’s ongoing disdain for the quality of public education in New Jersey remains one of his biggest failings as governor. While there has always been some merit behind his criticisms of the teachers union, his attacks have extended far beyond legitimate gripes.
The overriding impression is that the governor would gladly replace the current system with a network of charter schools and private-tinged ventures, this despite the fact that the vast majority of the state’s school districts have been, and continue to be, highly successful. (emphasis mine)