It might be possible for New Jersey middle-school and high-school students to be deemed proficient on state science assessments even if they get less than 60% of the possible points on the exam.

While results on last spring’s math and language arts standardized tests have been delivered to schools, science results for the three grades that took that exam will wait until winter. It’s a new assessment and passing scores are still being set – and in two of three cases, are recommended to be under 60%.

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said that’s comparable to the PARCC, which the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment is replacing, and to other states.

“The key word for me, as they brought this to my attention, was: What are other states doing? Are we far away from them? Are we below them? And it seems like we’re in the same ballpark,” Repollet said.

A committee of a testing company, state education officials and teachers this summer reviewed the science standards, exam questions and results to settle on cut scores.

Fifth-grade students whose score equals 65% of the total points possible would be deemed proficient. The cut scores would equal 57% for eighth graders and 58% for 11th graders.

The State Board of Education has to agree on the cut scores, probably at its meeting next month.

“Are we setting the standards high enough so that we’re pushing kids to achieve? And I don’t know, I’ll have to take your word for it that you think we are,” said board member Andrew Mulvihill.

“I think our standards are extremely high and surpass other states,” Repollet said. “However, we must also look at equity across the board, making sure that we provide all of our students with an opportunity to pass this assessment, and not just some students.”

“Sorry, could you repeat that? We want all the students to be able to pass the assessment?” Mulvihill said. “I mean, if everyone can pass it, it might be too easy.”

Want to see what the NJSLA-Science is like? Practice tests are available online by clicking here.

Board member Ronald Butcher says he understands the process and rationale – but that the public won’t see those scores as passing, so the Department of Education needs to have an explanation.

“I’m asking this for a reason because I know right away what the feedback’s going to be. The feedback is this is a D in terms of grades. It’s a 60%. If you do that analogy, it’s a D, not a C,” Butcher said.

The NJSLA-Science was field tested statewide in the spring of 2018. Its first official use that counts, also called its benchmark administration, was done last spring.

In late July, representatives from Measurement Incorporated, staff at the Department of Education and 38 educators from around the state participated in a three-day performance standard setting exercise, which included the teachers taking the exam to experience it.

They then recommended cut scores, then debated the results to narrow down to a consensus on cut scores between each of four performance levels.

Out of 60 possible points on the Grade 5 assessment, the cut scores between the lowest and second levels would be 25 points, or 42%; between Level 2 and 3, which is considered proficient, it would be set at 39 points, or 65%; and between Level 3 and 4, the top level, it would be set at 49 points, or 82%.

Out of 70 possible points on the Grade 8 assessment, the Level 2 cut score would be 20 points, or 29%; the Level 3 cut score would be 40 points, 57%; and the Level 4 cut score would be 52 points, or 74%.

Out of a 78 possible points on the Grade 11 assessment, the Level 2 cut score would be 31 points, or 40%; the Level 3 cut score would be 45 points, or 58%; and the Level 4 cut score would be 60 points, or 77%.

In a survey of the 38 teachers who helped set the standards, none told the NJDOE that they thought the cut scores for passing the assessments were unreasonable.

One of the 12 eighth-grade teachers involved said they were uncertain about the Level 2 cut score, which equals 29%, and one of the 14 fifth-grade teachers recommended raising the Level 4 cut score by one point, to 50 out of 60, or 83%.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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