Cerf finds a “tremendous” job done by his staff in dismal test scores

Former state testing director, Bari Ehrlichson, now working in Newark talks about the city's PARCC scores.
Former state testing director, Bari Erlichson, right,  now working in Newark,  talks about the city’s PARCC scores.

The scores on the latest round of statewide tests–the so-called PARCC tests–were bad everywhere, but Newark’s fell far behind New Jersey’s statewide averages, according to the state-operated school district’s release of the first round of results Tuesday night.

The high school math scores were especially low–something the district attributes to “lower levels of participation.” In her long and often meandering presentation, Newark’s new testing guru Bari Anhalt Ehrlichson–apparently on loan from the state education department (like Cerf)–said everyone will have to wait to determine why lower levels of participation resulted in only five percent of Newark students meeting or exceeding the standards in second-year algebra and geometry.

“We’ll be digging deeper into that,” said Ehrlichson the former state director of testing, who, last spring, presided over New Jersey’s debacle of allowing Pearson, the publisher of the PARCC test, to spy on students on the days they took the exam and fingered children for possible discipline.

Here’s the breakdown. The figure that follows the test is the percentage of students who met or exceeded “expectations,” a new word for standards. First, the Newark score, followed by the state score, followed by the difference:

Third grade math: Newark, 22 percent; State, 45 percent. 23 points.

Fourth grade math: Newark, 17 percent; State, 40 percent. 23 points.

Fifth grade math: Newark, 19 percent; State, 41 percent. 22 points.

Sixth grade math: Newark, 17 percent; State, 41 percent. 24 points.

Seventh grade math: Newark, 17 percent; State, 37 percent. 20 points.

Eighth grade math: Newark, 19 percent; State, 24 percent. 5 points.

Algebra 1: Newark, 18 percent; State, 36 percent. 18 points.

Geometry: Newark, 5 percent; State, 24 percent. 19 points.

Algebra 2: Newark, 5 percent; State, 23 percent. 18 points.


The scores for the English Language Arts test:

Third grade: Newark, 17 percent; State, 44 percent, 27 points.

Fourth grade: Newark: 21 percent; State, 51 percent, 30 points.

Fifth grade: Newark, 23 percent; State, 51 percent, 28 points.

Sixth grade: Newark, 23 percent; State, 49 percent. 26 points.

Seventh grade: Newark, 28 percent; State, 52 percent. 24 points.

Eighth grade: Newark, 24 percent; State, 51 percent. 27 points.

Ninth grade: Newark, 23 percent; State, 39 percent. 26 points.

Tenth grade: Newark, 19 percent; State, 36 percent. 17 points.

Eleventh grade: Newark, 28 percent; State, 41 percent. 13 points.

School and student scores are scheduled for release after the end of the year.

The scores were released Tuesday night at a sparsely attended school board meeting. Wilhelmina Holder, a parent activist who heads the Secondary School Council, shook her head and said, “The scores are bad–they are really bad.”

State-appointed superintendent Christopher Cerf didn’t characterize the scores at all. Cerf, who knows how to talk around every disaster he meets, came up with this statement while introducing the results:

“No district did a better job than Newark did in getting this job done,” Cerf said, who called the work of his staff “tremendous.”

He was not talking about the results, but rather the test administration. He praised the central office staff for the rapid deployment of enough expensive computers so they could be used for the test. This is typical Cerf spin, trying to find a bright side to a disaster–never conceding that one of the reasons for Newark’s low scores was the unfamiliarity of students with the technology used to take the tests.

But even that sunniness was belied a few moments later by the discussion of the low levels of participation in the high schools–could that, too, be a function of the lack of preparedness for the test? Still, Cerf should learn how to calibrate his self-congratulation when the results are clearly dismal.







  1. 1. So, after Corey Booker “wanted his own person” as superintendent and then a charismatic superintendent was desired to use Zuckerberg’s fund$–and after much upheaval–student test scores aren’t better than when Marion Bolden was superintendent? And we still await information regarding the validity of PARCC tests.
    2. Would love to learn Cerf’s elucidation of “No district did a better job than Newark in getting this job done.” (Could he have gotten that line past a prof when he attended Amherst or Columbia Law?) If memory serves, a NPS teacher commented on your site last spring that the electronic devices for test administration in her school weren’t unpacked till just before test dates–so students hadn’t had time to acclimate to using them.

  2. Nov 9, 2014 “NJ DOE Can’t Get Its Story Straight on Standardized Tests” Jersey Jazzman post quotes Dr Erlichson saying that PARCC assessments are not intended to be diagnostic. How will Dr Erlichson–whose PhD is in political science, I think, not educational measurement/test design–help Newark students?

    1. Not diagnostic? The NJ DOE and all its yes organizations spent a whole year bragging about how these scores would be the be all and end all in telling parents how their kids were doing and pinpointing problem areas! They still are singing that tune! What a ridiculous mess. NJ should join everybody else and dump this lousy test.

  3. Bob, Relative to Christine’s comment that “NJ should … dump this lousy test”: Does the fact that Pearson still has an office in Hoboken (with sweet tax consideration) make it less likely that NJ would withdraw from PARCC? Is there an implicit “we keep NJ residents employed” factor?

    Bob Braun: As Captain Renault said in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked…” to think such a thing would be true. We all know the top testing people with the state education department have close ties to the testing industry.

  4. I assume the percentages are pass rates. However, as far as I can tell, the state hasn’t provided much information regarding what it takes to “pass” these tests. The main bit of information I get from these results is that children in a poorer district like Newark don’t perform to the same level as children in more affluent areas. Already knew that… When is the promised useful, granular information coming?

    Bob Braun: When teachers are trusted to evaluate students again.

  5. I proctored testing in Newark. Students pressed random keys on the keyboard and within 2 minutes closed the chromebooks. It was a joke to them…hope they don’t start blaming teachers again!

  6. This is probably a dumb question, but, in NJ, are the charter schools also required to take these tests? Are the Newark charters included in the scores? If yes, is there a breakout for them? Or does NJ charter law allow them to skate on PARCC?

    Bob Braun. Yes, and yes and no. Charter students must take PARCC. If and when Newark gets around to releasing the scores, the charters should be released, too.

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