Since 1978 approximately 50,000 students entering New Jersey public colleges each year have taken the New Jersey College Basic Skills Placement Tests (NJCBSPT) in Computation and in Elementary Algebra. The test results have consistently indicated that a great many of these freshmen have an inadequate grasp of elementary algebra and have difficulty in doing quantitative reasoning.
The New Jersey Basic Skills Council, a group of 12 faculty members and administrators representative of each of New Jersey's college sectors, administers these tests. Each year the Council's Mathematics Advisory Committee, in conjunction with Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey, develops a new form of the tests.
I served as a member of the Basic Skills Council and also as chairman of the Mathematics Advisory Committee from 1977 to 1986. This provided me the opportunity to use the test results for research studies, which were supported by Rutgers University and by the New Jersey Department of Higher Education. My hope was to be able to deduce from the error patterns on hierarchies of items how algebra instruction at the high school level might be improved and also how best to help entering college students overcome their difficulties with mathematics.
A planning grant from the Ford Foundation in 1982 enabled me to assemble an advisory group of educators. This advisory group examined the standard Algebra I curriculum and textbooks in relation
Charles Pine is professor emeritus of Physics at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and director of the New Jersey Algebra Project.