New Jersey Science Assessment Letter

September 29, 2008

The Honorable Lucille E. Davy
New Jersey Department of Education
100 River View Plaza
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0500

Dear Commissioner Davy:

I am writing regarding our review of New Jersey’s science assessments under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

As outlined in my letter of February 28, 2008, states had to meet four basic requirements in science for the 2007-08 school year. In particular, each state was required to: (1) have approved content standards in science; (2) administer a regular and alternate science assessment in each of three grade spans; (3) include all students in those assessments; and (4) report the results of the regular and alternate science assessments on state, district, and school report cards. My staff has reviewed the evidence you submitted and determined that, based on the evidence submitted to date, it appears that New Jersey has met the basic requirements for administering science assessments in 2007-08. However, New Jersey has not yet submitted the actual data to the Department demonstrating that all students were included in the science assessments. Please let us know within 10 days of receipt of this letter when New Jersey will have those data available so that we can confirm that New Jersey has, in fact, met the basic requirements for administering science assessments in 2007-08. States that do not provide the outstanding evidence to verify that they have met the four criteria for the 2007-08 school year have not met the basic requirements of the statute and will be subject to consequences, such as withholding of Title I, Part A administrative funds.

In 2008-09, New Jersey must provide evidence for peer review that demonstrates full compliance of its science standards and assessments. In anticipation of that required peer review, New Jersey chose to participate in an optional technical assistance peer review in May 2008. I appreciate the efforts that were required to prepare for the technical assistance peer review and hope that the process provides useful feedback that will support New Jersey’s efforts to monitor student progress toward meeting challenging science standards.

Based on the evidence received from New Jersey, which was reviewed by the peers and Department staff, we have concluded that New Jersey’s science assessments do not yet meet all the statutory and regulatory requirements of section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA. Specifically, we have concerns with the technical quality and alignment of the science component of New Jersey’s general assessment to New Jersey’s grade-level academic content standards as well as the technical quality and alignment of New Jersey’s alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards, the New Jersey Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA), to grade-level content standards. The enclosed list of evidence describes the information and documentation that New Jersey will need to provide for peer review to be able to demonstrate that its science standards and assessments satisfy all relevant ESEA requirements. We have scheduled peer reviews for states’ science assessments for the weeks of October 25 through November 1, 2008, and March 23 through 27, 2009. A state must submit evidence to the Department three weeks prior to the review in which it is participating.

Please keep in mind that science assessments represent one piece of a state’s complete standards and assessment system, which also includes general and alternate assessments for reading and mathematics. As stated in my letter to you on June 27, 2007, New Jersey’s standards and assessment system is currently designated Approval Pending. To become fully approved, New Jersey must demonstrate that all components of its standards and assessment system as administered in 2008-09, including the general and alternate assessments for reading, mathematics, and science, comply with all ESEA requirements for standards and assessment systems.

We look forward to working with New Jersey to support a high-quality standards and assessment system, of which science standards and assessments are an integral part. If you would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Sharon Hall ( or Jessica Morffi ( of my staff.


Kerri L. Briggs, Ph.D.


cc: Governor Jon Corzine
Jay Doolan
Timothy Peters



  1. 1. Performance level descriptors (PLDs) for the general and the Alternate Proficiency Assessment science assessments in grades 4, 8, and high school biology), including content-based competencies associated with all three achievement levels and, for biology, for every cluster, including “application.”
  2. Evidence of Board approval of the PLDs and cut scores for the general and APA science assessments in grades 4, 8 and high school biology).
  3. Evidence that the scoring of the APA science addresses only academic content linked to grade level at the individual student level and does not include programmatic features.
  4. Documentation that New Jersey has reported separately the number and percentage of those students with disabilities assessed against alternate academic achievement standards and those included in the general science assessment (including those administered with appropriate accommodations).
  5. Evidence of diverse stakeholder involvement in the development of academic achievement standards, including content specialists and representatives for students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency for grades 4 and 8 and high school biology, for both the general and APA science assessments.


  1. Evidence that the results for the Spanish-language versions and the English version of the grade 8 science are comparable.
  2. Evidence that the science assessments, including the general assessment and the APA for grades 4 and 8 and high school biology, measure higher-order thinking skills and student understanding of challenging content. Such evidence may include test blueprints indicating numbers of items at different cognitive levels, alignment studies, and/or results of content reviews that include cognitive level reviews.


  1. Evidence of validity and reliability for all areas of the technical quality section of the Department’s Standards and Assessments Peer Review Guidance: Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 for the biology end-of-course test, the Spanish-language version of the grade 8 science assessment, and the APA science (grades 4, 8, and high school biology).
  2. Information concerning intended and unintended consequences for the grade 4 science assessment.
  3. Reliability data for the science assessments in grades 4 and 8 for each reported subpopulation.
  4. Documentation of the conditional standard error of measurement for the grade 8 science assessment.
  5. Evidence that the use of accommodations and/or the APA yield meaningful scores.
  6. Evidence concerning how the state monitors the on-going quality of its science assessments.
  7. Evidence that appropriate accommodations are available to students with disabilities and limited English proficient (LEP) students and that these accommodations are used in a manner that is consistent with instructional approaches for each student, as determined by a student’s IEP or 504 plan.
  8. Evidence that the state monitors availability of accommodations during test administrations.
  9. Evidence that the state has determined that scores for students with disabilities and LEP students that are based on accommodated administration conditions will allow for valid inferences about these students’ knowledge and skills and can be combined meaningfully with scores from non-accommodated administration conditions.


  1. Evidence of alignment for with the 2005 Core Content Curriculum Standards (CCCS) for all general and APA science assessments in grades 4, 8, and high school biology. The evidence should include comprehensiveness, range, depth, degree of cognitive complexity, content knowledge and process skills, and degree and pattern of emphasis.
  2. PLDs for the APA that address alignment to the CCCS.
  3. Evidence, such as a plan and timeline, for improving and maintaining alignment between assessments and standards over time and how the state addresses gaps, both annually and when content standards are reviewed periodically.


  1. Definition for “Status 3 Students,” (referred to in APA Score Interpretation Manual, page 28), and the rationale for why they are excluded from the state reports.
  2. Guidelines or processes to assist IEP teams and teachers in the selection and administration of appropriate accommodations for the general and alternate science assessments.
  3. Evidence of training components and content for general and special education teachers for science assessments, particularly for the APA, which requires teachers to choose standards and activities.
  4. Science assessment data report confirming that all students in the grades tested are included in the science assessments.


  1. Evidence of reports for the general and APA biology assessment, consistent with the reporting section of the Department’s Standards and Assessments Peer Review Guidance: Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
  2. Student reports for both the general and APA science assessments in grades 4 and 8, including performance descriptions to show what students know and can do, so that parents, teachers, and principals can interpret and address a student’s specific academic needs.
  3. Documentation that the state ensures student confidentiality in reporting science assessment results.
  4. APA reports for science that provide analyses by subdomains or standards so that parents, teachers, and principals can interpret and address the specific academic needs of students.

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