Rating NJ's Content Standards

The Fordham Foundation has released its 2010 review of individual state standards for language arts and math as a stunningly high number of states (29 so far, including NJ) are agreeing to adopt a national set of Common Core standards. Accompanying the review is an article in the National Review by Checker Finn and Mike Petrelli, which praises the Common Core as superior to what most states have in place (three states had better standards on their own without any help – Indiana, California, and D.C. (really!) – and 12 were “too close to call” (including the highly-regarded Massachusetts standards). See NJ Spotlight for a good overview and interview with Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer, who calls the new standards “a sea change” for NJ districts.

A few facts from Fordham’s review of NJ’s standards, pre-replacement with the Common Core:

For Language Arts: “some strength in key areas…but enough problems exist in other areas…that the standards on balance are rather mediocre.”

“The New Jersey standards are a mix of specific and vague.” “’Comprehension Skills and Response to Text’ standards…are not organized in any systemic way…Finally it must be noted that NJ has developed a single set of standards for grades 9-12. It is impossible for one set of standards to cover so much material at a level of specificity that is useful, and no guidance is offered for specific high school grade levels.”

“The NJ early reading standards are fairly rigorous. Key topics…are all addressed…Vocabulary is addressed in every grade.” However, various gaps “leave at least 35% of the essential K-12 content missing.”

For Math:
“NJ’s standards are extremely difficult to read and understand.”
“The general presentation of the standards is very poor and extremely difficult to follow because essential content and clarification is scattered across several documents…the use of examples in the clarification documents is a good feature, but they are not provided consistently and frequently fail to provide needed illumination.”
Re: content in early grades, “standards on measurement are strong and clear” and “some of the high school content is well-covered.” However, “the high school material is missing some content” and much of the STEM-ready material is missing.”

What is it with NJ and high schools? While both our Language Arts and Math standards earned a “C” from Fordham for K-12 content, much of the criticism is directed at the lack of clarity and specificity for 9-12 graders. In fact, our lack of measurement of high school student achievement that was a factor for reviewers of our first Race To The Top application. On the other hand, we did better in math than Connecticut, which got a "D," and Pennsylvania, which got an "F." Maybe they're grading on a curve.