Parsing the AHSA Results

The Star-Ledger reports that 2,900 NJ high school seniors failed the Alternative High School Assessment, the replacement for the long-discredited Special Review Assessment, which almost no one failed. The AHSA, which replaced the SRA just this year, is administered to students who failed the traditional assessment (the HSPA) three times.

The reason for the change in passage rate – 96% for the SRA and now about 36% for the AHSA (8,000 kids took it) is due to the change in scoring. The SRA was scored by the teachers within the child’s district who administered the test. The AHSA is scored by Measurement, Inc., an outside vendor.

Past reactions to the fact that we’ve been awarding high school diplomas to kids who haven’t been educated effectively are instructive. Five years ago Education Commissioner William Librera urged the DOE to eliminate the SRA, but the political stakes were too high. Here's NJEA President Barbara Keshishian at a 2008 NJ State Board of Education meeting defending a test that no one failed:
The SRA has served New Jersey's students well. It is based upon educationally sound practices and offers students who cannot pass standardized tests a legitimate alternative to receive a diploma. Unfortunately, many in the media and business community have mislabeled the SRA as a back-door to graduation. On the contrary, the SRA has provided students with a viable path to a diploma.
Here’s the question, articulated by Ms. Keshishian: What’s a “viable path” to a high school diploma in NJ? There are countless heart-rending stories about students – some, like in the Ledger piece, already accepted to college on the assumption that they would pass the assessment – whom have been duped into thinking that they have achieved high school proficiency. But they fail and they’re stuck. What happens when you add a new level of accountability to a process and the results indicate lack of quality? Do you blame the messenger or look carefully at the message?

(For a longer-term perspective, read Diane D'Amico recent piece in the Press of Atlantic City that explains that 2/3 of NJ community college students need remedial coursework and only 15% of full-time NJ community college students graduate within 3 years. [Cost to NJ: $45 million per year.])

Deputy Comm. Willa Spicer has it right: "We have to tell the world we really do care that kids can read, write and do mathematics when they leave us. The point is to make sure we have evidence they can do it." The AHSA gives us the evidence. Now we have to act.

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