It goes without saying that many students are concerned about their ability to pass the New Jersey Department of Education’s High School Proficiency Assessment. After all, if they don’t pass their first attempt in 11th grade, the following year will mean reviews and retests. And if they don’t manage to pass the exam by the third attempt, they won’t graduate with the rest of their class!
Parents, too, are concerned about how well their children will do in this very important assessment. However, they should know that there are a number of things that can be done to help students not only pass, but do their very best.
Although it might go against common belief, cramming for the exam won’t help a bit. In fact, in many cases in can hurt. Waiting until a few days before the exam and then trying to stuff as much information into your mind as you can often results in what you really do know getting shoved to the side. What you’re trying to memorize last minute might get confused with other bits of information, and by the time you go to take the exam, you’ve forgotten what you know and don’t understand what you’ve crammed.
A much better, more measured approach is to allow plenty of time for review. Remember that this type of test is designed to discover not only facts and information you’ve committed to memory, but how capable you are of applying these things. Reading a question and deciding the best approach to resolving it takes a certain amount of creative thinking, and if you’ve gotten yourself all tied up into a bundle of nerves, creativity will vanish. Instead, begin studying a long time before the test so you’ll feel confident about what you really do know going in, and can allow your mind some relaxed creative play.
There are lots of different types of study materials available. When you visit a bookstore or the internet, however, be aware that not all test materials are created equal. It’s not in your best interest to purchase the flashiest CD study set or the cheapest flash cards, unless they have been produced by a company with an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. These are the companies that have been in the education business for a long time, are proud of their products and the contributions they make to helping students get ahead.
The night before the big day, it’s much more important to get a good night’s sleep than it is to keep studying. At this point, you either know the information you’ll need or you don’t. Wake up a little early, and eat a good breakfast, and you’ll be ready to go.
Once you’re taking the test, there are a few things to remember to help you score at the top of your game. First, read the instructions! A surprising number of students assume they know what instructions contain, and simply skip them in order to save a few minutes. But what if you answer the wrong thing? The minute you saved is has just become lost forever.
Secondly, if you come up against a question you have absolutely no idea how to answer, skip it for now. But remember that you’ll need to complete it before turning in the test! Statistically, it’s wisest to answer every question, even if you are just guessing. That’s because these tests don’t penalize you for a wrong answer; they simply only credit you for correct answers. Not answering a question obviously won’t win you points. Making a guess isn’t as good as knowing the answer, but at least you’ve got some chance of guessing right!
When making a guess, if time permits do it logically. Read the directions, reread the question, and begin by crossing out any responses you are pretty sure aren’t right. This will increase the chance you’ll guess correctly.
Pacing yourself is another good tip. Remember you’ve got the entire morning— two and a half hours—to complete the test. Many of the questions will be ones you know, and you’ll get through those quickly. It’s a good idea to pass through the exam once, answering only those questions you are certain about. On the next pass, make your best guess for those you can address through the process of elimination. One more time through and you finish items that are still blank.
A word of caution: be extremely careful that the answer you are filling in corresponds to the correct question. The last thing you want to do is get to the end of the test and discover things don’t match up!
New Jersey Department Of Education High School Proficiency Assessment Scoring
The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) combines multiple choice, open- ended and writing prompt essay questions. The NJOE works with an independent contractor who is responsible for machine scoring the rest results on the multiple choice questions. Mathematics and Language Arts Literacy open- ended questions are rated by trained scoring experts. These scorers are monitored throughout the scoring process.
Two trained scorers read each of the open- ended questions and score them independently. Next, the two scores are combined and divided by two to arrive at an average.
The raw score is arrived at by adding to total number of correct responses, each of which is assigned one point. Scale scores are arrived at by a process of conversion of the raw scores; these are the final scores that are reported as each student’s HSPA score. It is important that students know that coming across unfamiliar items is inevitable; rather than skipping questions for which they don’t know the answers, it is statistically advantageous to make a guess since there is no penalty for incorrect answers. Simply skipping the question, however, does count as an incorrect response.
The Language Arts Literacy section of the High School Proficiency Assessment contains essay questions that are written as a response to a written prompt. The NJDOE has created a scoring tool called Registered Holistic Scoring, which ranks each essay on a scale of from one to six. On this scale, one represents the low score. Each essay is examined for competency in four areas: sentence construction; word usage; writing mechanics; and content organization. As with the open- ended questions, two scorers read and rank each essay; these scores are then added together and averaged to arrive at a final score.
For each section of the test, students must achieve a passing score of at least 200. Sections are scored between 100 and 300.
It is important to recognize that a student who does very well in one section but not in another will not have the scores averaged. For example, a student that earns a high score of 300 in the Mathematics section of the HSPA and a low score of 105 in the Language Arts Literacy section will have a passing score of 200 between the two sections. In this case, the student must repeat the Language Arts Literacy section of the test in October of the following year. Should the results again be below 200, one more test will be given the following March. Any student who fails the initial administration of the HSPA in 11th grade will also be fully evaluated and given additional goal focused remediation that is designed for their special needs. This instruction can be delivered in a number of ways. There may be the opportunity to attend classes the meet during regular school hours, before or after school, during the summer via tutorials. Parents will be informed of the method or methods the school decides upon.
In the event a student undergoes remediation and fails both the Fall and Spring administration of the HSPA in 12th grade, he or she can request a Special Review Assessment (SRA). This assessment allows students to prove their competency to a committee of teachers and other educators, who will then decide whether or not, in their view, the student’s knowledge and skill is equivalent to the required degree of mastery. In the event the SRA is not successful, the student will not be permitted to graduate and must either take and pass General Educational Development (GED) tests or repeat the HSPA the following year.
It is only necessary for a student to pass the HSPA once; students who relocate to another school in New Jersey after passing the assessment have fulfilled the requirement as documented in that student’s permanent record.
After the assessments are scored, each student is given an Individual Student Report (ISR) that breaks down the scores by sections. Both the scale and raw scores are given. Total scores are reported as Advanced Proficient, Proficient and Partially Proficient; the last of these is a failing score. In addition to a copy of the report being given to the student’s family, another copy becomes part of the permanent record, and is protected by privacy laws.
The Language Arts Literacy Section Of The High School Proficiency Assessment
Five subareas are included in the HSPA Language Arts Literacy portion of the Core Curriculum Content Standards as described by the New Jersey Department of Education. These subareas are listening, speaking, reading, writing and viewing; they are included because each offers an essential contribution to daily communication as well as to academic thought and interpretation.
Test questions in these subareas take a number of forms. Text passages are provided for students to read and respond to through writing prompts or multiple choice questions; writing prompt based questions will also be included. The reading passages include both narrative and persuasive styles of writing, and each are addressed with twelve questions; ten are multiple choice, while the remaining two are open- ended. The Language Arts Literacy portion of the HSPA is organized into different types of questions that demand different task applications in response. The test is designed to evaluate test takers linguistic ability not just in the academic arena, but in all areas of communication.
Students are given paper for prewriting preparation prior to answering the two writing prompt based questions. One question concerns a picture or other visual prompt; the second writing response question offers a persuasive prompt. Students are encouraged to use the paper provided to make lists, web relationships, plan an outline, draw or otherwise apply prewriting skills to the task. Once the student has her ideas in order, she will turn to the lined paper that is provided as part of the test booklet and provide her written response.
The writing response question uses a picture prompt to offer characters in a setting. It is up to the student to decide what the relationship is between the characters, why they are in that particular setting, what events have taken place, what event is currently unfolding, and how the story will end. Including imaginative connections, vivid and original written description, and a sense of narrative logic will improve the student’s score in this area. Using expanded vocabulary and avoiding clichés or redundancy is also helpful. Students are reminded that while creativity is important in this portion of the Language Arts Literacy section, it must contain an inner logic; events and characters must be linked in a way that makes some kind of sense. Students can use foreshadowing to suggest the outcome, or to mislead the reader in order to set up a surprise ending. Dialogue can also be used, but students should bear in mind that to be used for best effect, it should be kept at a minimum. Including sensory information such as sounds, textures and smells is one of the best ways to enrich the writing with detail that is both imagistic and vivid enough to bring the writing to life for the reader.
Persuasive writing is required to complete the second writing prompt question. Persuasive writing, also called argumentative writing, has as its central purpose the goal of convincing the reader that a position, belief or expectation is correct. These questions are often controversial, and can involve political, social or religious beliefs, or a combination. For example, students might be asked to compose a persuasive essay that defends or opposes illegal immigration laws.
This portion of the test includes the Writer’s Checklist/ Revising- Editing Guide, which is a list of things to look for when revising the writing. Some items are concerned with grammar, others with content. It is important that students give this guide serious consideration, as making sure they have addressed each item simultaneously demonstrates their ability to read and interpret instructions, and also offers a list of the types of information and writing that test reviewers will base the score on.
Each piece of writing is scored using the New Jersey Registered Holistic Scoring Rubric, which looks at seven areas of writing competency and scores each area according to one of six categories that range from Inadequate Command to Superior Command.
The Mathematics Section Of The High School Proficiency Assessment
In the Mathematics section of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) students will be asked to answer questions that will evaluate their ability to correctly apply math skills to solve problems. This section of the HSPA gives consideration to data analysis; statistics; numerical operations; patterns; algebra; measurement; geometry; and discrete mathematics.
The preponderance of questions will be multiple choice. These questions are assigned one point for each right answer. Students should also be prepared to answer open- ended questions in which they must respond to a question in writing or with a graphic representation, which they must then explain. These questions are worth up between zero and three points each. Answers that earn zero points demonstrate no understanding of the concepts inherent in the question. Questions that are awarded one point demonstrate limited understanding of the concept used, together with an explanation that isn’t complete. Two point responses show a thorough understanding of the concepts involved and an explanation that may be complete but contains small errors. In order to earn three points, the student must exhibit complete comprehension of all the mathematical concepts being used, and must also provide an explanation that is clear and complete. This three point system is organized into a rubric for test readers to refer to; this is done to systematize how each question is rated, for consistency and fairness.
This portion of the HSPA offers questions that are based upon the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards knowledge and skills in the area of Mathematics. It organizes mathematical principles into four groups, or clusters: Number and Numerical Applications; Geometry and Measurement; Patterns and Algebra; and Data Analysis, Probability, and Discrete Mathematics.
The Number and Numerical Applications questions are concerned with the test taker’s knowledge of numerical operations, estimating, and number sense. The subarea of Geometry and Measurements includes questions pertaining to units of measurement; how to measure geometric objects; geometric properties; coordinate geometry; and the transformation of shapes. The Patterns and Algebra subsection looks at modeling; function; procedures; and patterns in algebraic relationships. The area of Data Analysis, Probability and Discrete Mathematics focuses on statistical analysis; probability; vertex- edge graphs and algorithms in discrete mathematics; and systematic listing and counting in discrete mathematics.
Most students will find that they can answer the multiple choice questions in one or two minutes on average; while these questions offer a number of responses and only one is correct, this portion of the test is designed to require students work at a higher cognitive level than required with traditional multiple choice questions. There are 40 multiple choice questions in this portion of the exam, and these questions are computer scored.
This portion of the test is timed to permit approximately ten minutes for a student to answer each of the open- ended questions, including drawings or writing plus the explanation. These questions are scored by trained readers. This section of the HSPA contains eight open- ended questions.
Each student will be given a page of mathematic tools that include formulas they will need to answer some of the questions; visual representations of geometric shapes; a ruler that is drawn to scale; and other useful information to help them answer the questions. A calculator is also provided.
The New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment
Since 2002, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has administered the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) in mathematics, writing and reading and science as identified by the Core Curriculum Content Standards. Eleventh grade students are given the HSPA in March over a period of three days. Two and a half hours per day are devoted to testing. In the event a student fails to pass one or more sections, they will be required to retest in October of their senior year, but only in those areas in which they initially failed.
The Core Curriculum Content Standards were determined by the State Board of Education as benchmarks by which to measure students’ degree of understanding of content knowledge and skills. The purpose of the HSPA is to discover where each student is in terms of learning the skills and information necessary in order to graduate; in fact, passing this assessment is a requirement of graduation. The HSPA satisfies the 1988 New Jersey mandate 18A: 7C- 6.2 that states all graduating public high school students must have obtained the skills they will need in order to contribute economically, socially and politically as members of a democracy. The HSPA also fulfills the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
One of the ways in which the HSPA is applied is to help school administrators review curriculum for weaknesses, determine which areas are being sufficiently addressed, and create remedial programs to support those students that lack sufficient skills or content knowledge.
All 11th grade students are required to take the HSPA, including those who have been placed in special education classes. Students who have been classified as special education or special needs will be provided with the necessary modifications, and their needs will be accommodated as determined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Examples of appropriate accommodations and modifications include a longer time to complete the assessment, being permitted to test in a location away from other students, being tested in Braille or with the aid of a sign language interpreter. Students with extreme learning or physical disabilities who are determined to be outside the requirements of understanding the content standards do not have to take the HSPA; however, this is a small percentage of the special needs student population. Students with extreme disabilities are, instead, measured by a different set of NJDOE- recognized standards, using the Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA), a portfolio assessment in Language Arts Literacy and Math. For parents who have concerns about their child’s participation in the HSPA, it is recommended that they broach this as well as questions or suggestions concerning modifications and accommodations when they meet with their child’s IEP team.
Students with limited English proficiency (LEP) are also required by law to take the HSPA in all content areas. Accommodations and modifications, such as providing assessment instructions in the student’s first language, extending the examination time, permitting the use of a dictionary or translator, or testing in non- distracting environments are all possibilities. Concerned parents or guardians should make an appointment with the bilingual coordinator regarding how best to provide for their child’s special needs.
Questions and passages of text selected for the HSPA must first go through a rigorous review process. New Jersey State committees for Mathematics, Language Arts Literacy, and Sensitivity, composed of teachers and other educators, study each item prior to inclusion in the assessment, as well as after undergoing field testing. Only those items that were deemed appropriate and in alignment with the Core Curriculum Content Standards are included in the HSPA.
The proficiency levels of the HSPA are based upon student performances of the 2002 administration of the test; they were reviewed by educator committees who then made recommendations to the New Jersey State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education. Using statistical equating, current and future HSPA tests are designed to fall within the same degree of difficulty as the 2002 version of the HSPA.
The New Jersey Registered Holistic Scoring Rubrics
Student essays written in response to writing prompts in the Language Arts Section of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) are scored using a tool developed by the state of New Jersey, called the Registered Holistic Scoring Rubrics. The Rubrics is designed to ensure that essays, which are hand graded by trained readers, are scored to a standard; using a rubric helps to eliminate personal bias a reader may consciously or unconsciously have toward a particular piece of writing, and helps to guarantee that each piece receives the same attention and is judged according to the same values as other essays.
The New Jersey Registered Holistic Scoring Rubrics examines each essay in the areas of Content and Organization; Usage; Sentence Construction; and Mechanics. The NJDOE defines the first field, Content and Organization, as being characterized by the degree to which the intended message is communicated to the intended audience; is on topic; contains an acceptable introduction and conclusion; remains focused; moves logically from idea to idea; includes transitions; and provides appropriate information.
The area of usage is concerned with pronoun- antecedent agreement; subject- verb agreement; correct pronoun use; correctly formed verb tenses; and adjectives and adverbs that are appropriately used.
Sentence Construction looks for a range of sentence structures, types and lengths that are correctly constructed, while Mechanics is concerned with punctuation, capitalization, and spelling, including possessives, plurals and contractions.
These four areas are given a score of one to six, with one representing least adequate and six representing the most developed writing. The range begins with Inadequate Command (1); Limited Command (2); Partial Command (3); Adequate Command (4); Strong Command (5) and Superior Command (6).
An essay that receives a one in Content and Organization might evidence no organization, offer unclear or pointless detail, need an introduction or conclusion, or be only minimally on- topic. An essay that displays a number of usage errors, such as incorrect pronoun use, verb tenses that aren’t consistent, subject- verb disagreement, or adjectives and adverbs being used incorrectly will earn a one, Inadequate Command, in the area of Usage. A one in Sentence Construction is earned by an essay that shows sentence fragments, run- on sentences, and only one or two sentence structures. To garner a one is the area of Mechanics, an essay must display serious errors in spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
An essay that scores at the mid- range, Adequate Command (4) offers an acceptable introduction and conclusion, remains focused on the topic, and provides clear transition vocabulary properly placed. The concepts are somewhat connected, although the details may not be smoothly developed. There may be some errors in usage, such as adjectives used as adverbs, or an incorrect pronoun being used, but these errors don’t skewer meaning. Sentence structure is sufficiently varied. While some spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors may be present, there is no pattern to the errors, suggesting they are mistakes rather than based upon incorrect belief. In addition, the errors are not so severe that they distort the essay’s overall meaning.
The area of Superior Command represents a high degree of writing competency. Here, the field of Content and Organization demonstrates a well written introduction and conclusion along with body paragraphs that are logical, well- woven and nicely developed. Ideas are offered in a logical pattern and cohere into a unified whole. The writing may exhibit risk- taking that is largely successful, and the essay contains rich details that enhance the essay’s purpose. There are few errors in the fields of Usage and Mechanics. The area of Sentence Construction shows sophisticated variations of sentence type and structure.
Papers that produce responses that cannot be assigned a one are considered non- scorable. In these cases, the reader can notate using other methods. NR means No Response; this can be assigned even if there is a small amount of writing, but not enough to be evaluated. OT, or Off- Task means the writing assignment was ignored. NE, Not English, is noted when the student responded in a written language other than English. WF means Wrong Format; this means the writing task folder was left blank or contained drawings, outlines, notes or other insufficient marks.
The Science Section Of The High School Proficiency Assessment
The science section of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) is designed to evaluate each student’s ability to applying scientific methods, theories, and principles to real- world phenomena in order to solve problems, answer questions and otherwise examine the world.
A Science Reference Sheet will be provided to aide students in answering their questions. This sheet contains a number of formulas. No calculator is provided. This part of the HSPA is composed of four subsections each containing 15 multiple choice and 1 open- ended questions. In all, the science area of the High School Proficiency Assessment contains 64 questions; 60 multiple choice and four open- ended questions. Students should plan to complete each multiple choice question in one minute on average, and allot five minutes to each open- ended question.
The answer folder delineates an area for open- ended question responses. Students should be aware that the location where the answer is to be recorded is specifically given in the instructions, and no additional papers should be attached. The test taker must answer the open- ended question with sufficient explanation so that a reader will understand the response. Charts, symbols, diagrams or formulas can be inserted, regardless of whether the question specifically asks for these visual aids. Scoring of open- ended questions will reflect both the correctness of the answer and whether the method chosen to complete the response was the best choice.
Multiple choice questions are given one point each, and scoring is done by computer.
Open- ended questions are scored by trained readers, who will assign each a score of zero to three. Readers will use a rubric to ensure that their responses are as standardized as possible in fairness to the examinees. Open- ended science questions are read and scored by two independent, trained scorers through an independently contracted company. These readers must have a degree from a four- year college program, and undergo three days of intensive training. Scorers are also closely monitored by supervisors.
A score of zero for a particular question indicates the test taker exhibits no real understanding of the problem or the scientific principle needed to resolve it. The student response is far off target. An answer that is assigned a single point reflects a response that is correct in some areas, but not sufficiently so. Two points are awarded to responses that are generally correct but that contain either minor errors or omissions. Three points, the highest score, is given for responses that are clear, thorough and fully correct.
The science portion of the HSPA is organized into three clusters: Physical Science, Life Science and Earth Science.