N.J. students still among top performers on U.S. tests; State scores remain steady despite Common Core shift

Published on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Jersey students still outperform most of their U.S. peers on national language arts and math tests.  At the same time, their performance on statewide standardized assessments has continued to hold steady this year, despite Common Core skills and approaches being integrated within roughly half of the test questions or problems posed on the 2013 tests. Plus participation on Advanced Placement tests continues to grow.

Assistant Commissioner/Chief talent officer Dr. Bari Erlichson summed up the positive findings at the Nov. 11 State Board of Education meeting. State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf hastened to note that although the gap in test scores has not widened, White students still outperform their African-American and Hispanic counterparts on both national and state tests and gaps continue between economically disadvantaged students and other students on the NJ Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (NJASK) in grades four to eight.

N.J. students consistent in top rankings

On the national level, N.J. students continued to rank high on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in both language arts and math at the fourth-grade and eighth-grade levels. (See chart below)

Those tests, given every two years, are “snapshots of a grade level and subject, not a longitudinal study of a particular cohort of students,” Erlichson emphasized. Other content areas are tested less frequently and in other years.

Here is how N.J. students fared on average on the 2013 NAEP tests compared to the nation, as well as how students performed overall among higher scorers on both reading and math at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels over the past decade:

      2003 average

2013 average
Scoring “proficient”
 in 2003 
or higher
 in 2013
 N.J. U.S. 
N.J. U.S. N.J.
Math 4th grade
  234 239
241 247
42% 49%
Math 8th grade   276
284 296
33% 34% 49%
Reading 4th grade   216 225 221
229 30%
Reading 8th grade   261 268
30% 36% 35%

Erlichson acknowledged that New Jersey is easily in the “top decibel” of having high standards nationally, and students’ performance on the NAEP suggest a tighter correlation with the New Jersey tests than is occurring in other states.

 Nationally, a sampling of 170,000 to 190,000 students in grades four to eight take these tests.  While the average scores have remained basically steady or risen and overall performance improved over the past 10 and 20 years, this has occurred even as the numbers of schools participating and the pool of students from which the samples were drawn increased.


In 2013, New Jersey male students scored 248, an average of two points higher than females on the 4th grade math test, but an average two points lower on the 8th-grade math test (295-297). Furthermore, females outscored males an average of 5.5 points on the 4th grade reading NAEP and 10 points higher on the 8th-grade reading test.

Nationally, fourth-grade female students scored nearly seven points higher than their male counterparts (224-217) on reading and 10 points higher on the eighth-grade reading test (271-261) than the male students.


On the fourth-grade math NAEP in 2013, White students in the state outscored Black students by 25 points (254-229) and Hispanic students by 20 points (254-234). On the eighth-grade math test, White students scored an average 29 points higher than Black students (303-274) and 20 points higher than Hispanic students (303-283).

At the national level, fourth-grade White students averaged math scores of 250, compared to their Black and Hispanic counterparts, who scored 224 and 230, respectively. On the eight-grade math test, the national average test scores were 30 points higher for White students than Black students (293-263) and 22 points higher than Hispanic students (293-271).

In New Jersey’s fourth-grade NAEP reading scores, White students scored 238, 26 points higher than both Black students and Hispanic students. In eighth grade reading, White students scored on average 24 points higher than Black students and 18 points higher than Hispanic students.

Nationally, the average fourth grade reading NAEP scores registered 26 points higher for White students than for Black students (231 to 205) and 25 points higher than for Hispanic studentss. At the eighth-grade level, White students scored 275, an average of 25 points higher than Black students and 20 points higher than Hispanic students.

The good news, the scoring gap narrowed for eighth-grade Hispanic students between 2011 and 2013l both on the math test (by 10 points) and on the reading test (eight points). Nationally only one state narrowed the racial achievement gap – Maine in its fourth-grade testing.


Although the NJDOE did not examine the demographic differences among the states, the NAEP statistics show that New Jersey public schools enroll more students and the student population is more diverse than in Massachusetts.

New Jersey enrolled more than 1.4 million public school students, compared to Massachusetts’ 955,563 students.  Some 59% of New Jersey students attend Title I schools, compared to 51.7% in Massachusetts, although the rates of students eligible for free and/or reduced price lunch are close -- 32.8% in N.J. and 34.2% in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts reports 17.5% of students as having Individualized Education Programs and 5.8% in limited-English proficiency programs, compared to New Jersey’s 16.1% and 3.8%, respectively.  New Jersey’s student population is more diverse in racial and ethnic background – with 51.5% of the students White, 16.7% Black, 22.1% Hispanic, and 8.7% Asian, compared to Massachusetts where 68% of students are White, 8.3% Black, 15.4% Hispanic, and 5.5% Asian.

Other assessments


New Jersey students still have higher mean SAT scores than their national counterparts across the board – with scores remaining relatively steady between 2012 and 2013.  New Jersey scores registered only slightly higher in reading than for students nationwide. However, in math, New Jersey students mean scores stood at 521 compared to the 503 nationwide.  In writing also New Jersey students’ mean scores stood at 496 compared to 480 for students nationwide.

The number of N.J. graduating seniors taking the SAT has dropped minimally from the 2011 high of 72,359 to 71,277 in 2012 and 71, 125 in 2013.  These numbers are still far higher than the 64,120 and 66,787 N.J. test-takers in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Advanced Placement

New Jersey also outpaced the nation in the growth of unique Advanced Placement test-takers. Overall New Jersey students participating increased by 8% in 2013, while the percentage of students scoring a “3” or higher remained high at 73%.

In 2013, the percentage of students taking AP exams grew in every category, with 24.3% more Hispanic students and 12% more Black students taking the tests in 2013 than in 2012.  

In New Jersey, 49,788 took at least one AP test last year. Of those, the majority -- 27,556 -- were White, followed by Asian students (10,584), Hispanic students (6,347), and Black students (2,829).

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