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HISTORICAL CONTEXT: OVERVIEW OF NEW JERSEY’S
STATEWIDE TESTING PROGRAM (revised March 2009)

New Jersey has been committed to standards-based assessments for over thirty years.  In 1975, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Public School Education Act (PSEA) "to provide to all children of New Jersey, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, the educational opportunity which will prepare them to function politically, economically and socially in a democratic society." One year later, the PSEA was amended to establish uniform standards of minimum achievement in basic communication and computational skills. This amendment also included the legal basis for the use of a test as a graduation requirement. From 1978 through 1982, third-, sixth- and ninth-grade students participated in the Minimum Basic Skills (MBS) testing program for reading and mathematics.

Beginning in 1981-82, ninth-grade students were required to pass the Minimum Basic Skills Test as one of the requirements for a high school diploma. Students failing either the reading or mathematics section of the MBS test were provided several retesting opportunities through the eleventh grade to pass the MBS.

One year later in 1983, the state adopted the Grade 9 High School Proficiency Test (HSPT9), a more challenging assessment to measure the minimum skills in reading, writing and mathematics. The first due-notice administration of the HSPT9 occurred in 1983-1984. The first school year that the test was administered as a graduation requirement was 1985-1986.

In 1988, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law that moved the High School Proficiency Test (HSTP11) from the ninth to the eleventh grade and added the Grade 8 Early Warning Test (EWT) as an early benchmark assessment. While the HSPT11 and EWT were rigorous assessments of essential reading, writing and mathematics skills, the EWT was intended to be used for student placement and program planning only. In contrast, the Grade 11 High School Proficiency Test (HSPT11) served as a graduation requirement for all public school students who entered the ninth grade on or after September 1, 1991. Three years of due-notice testing were conducted from 1991 to 1993 to allow districts time to align their curriculum and instruction, and to prepare their eighth- and eleventh- grade students for the new, more challenging assessments.

In May 1996, the New Jersey Board of Education adopted the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) which enumerated what all New Jersey students should know and be able to do by the end of the fourth and eighth grades, and upon completion of a New Jersey public school education. The CCCS, which are revised every five years,  also define New Jersey’s high school graduation requirements and are the basis for assessing the academic achievement of students at grades 3 through 12. The CCCS informed the development of three subsequent statewide assessments: the Elementary School Proficiency Assessment (ESPA) which was administered from 1997-2002; the Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA), which replaced the EWT in 1998 and was administered through 2007-2008; and the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), which replaced the HSPT11 as the state’s graduation test for all students who entered the eleventh grade in the fall of 2001.

With the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), New Jersey’s statewide assessment system has undergone further change. This federal legislation requires that each state administer annual standards-based assessments to students in grades 3 through 8, and at least once in high school. Federal expectation is that each state will provide tests that are grounded in rigorous state content standards and that assess student achievement in language arts literacy, mathematics and, at three benchmark grade levels, science.

In response to NCLB requirements and New Jersey’s own expectations that students will be reading at grade level by the end of third grade, New Jersey revised its elementary assessment to include a third grade assessment program. The New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) was field-tested in May 2003, becoming fully operational the following year. With the implementation of NJ ASK 3 in 2003, the ESPA became the NJ ASK4. The state’s elementary science assessment was first administered to New Jersey's fourth graders in spring 2004, becoming operational the following year.  NJ ASK was further expanded in 2006 to include grades 5 through 7.  New Jersey’s assessment system currently includes NJ ASK 3-8, HSPA, the Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA) for students with severe cognitive disabilities, and end of course high school competency assessments in biology and algebra.  To help prepare students for the globalized 21st century economy,   current state plans for high school assessment call for a transition from the HSPA to a range of end of course competency assessments in language arts literacy, biology, algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, and environmental science.