New Jersey Currently Stands as One of Only Two States in The Country That Has Not Publicly Released Test ScoresDecember 6, 2022
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This is an editorial from the Star-Ledger Editorial Board.
Although New Jersey is at the top of national rankings for its schools, we can’t afford to be complacent: We lost more ground than most states in this pandemic, according to what’s commonly known as the nation’s report card.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that only a third of our eighth graders are proficient in math, and their scores declined more than the national average — putting New Jersey among the eight states with the biggest drops. We also saw declines in fourth grade reading scores.
We were obviously hit hard by Covid-19. Now we have tons of federal money to remedy that, but the Murphy administration has not seized the opportunity.
In fact, it has been blocking recovery by refusing to release statewide results from last Spring’s standardized tests, which means districts looking for the most effective strategies to fight learning loss can’t even start to compare themselves to one another, or to charter schools. No one knows what might work best.
Without an evidence-based approach, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz fears our schools will be caught in what she called a “Scooby-Doo run” — when you take off but never actually get anywhere, because you’re just stuck in the same place.
“It’s frustrating and it’s heartbreaking and it is terrifying,” she said at a panel on learning loss last week.
We need to see the scores for every district and school in our state, dig deeper into that data, and then tap into the ingenuity of schools that are spending this money to do great things. But we can’t, because we don’t have the data.
“We must demand transparency—and we are not getting it from the New Jersey Department of Education,” Paula White, head of the education watchdog group JerseyCAN, said when she announced the panel with Ruiz and other experts to discuss this persistent question: “Where are our Kids’ Test Scores?”
We are now almost halfway through the school year, and we still don’t have them for the entire state – which is “extraordinarily delayed,” in the words of Ruiz, one of the panelists. “DOE should be the think tank for innovation for the state,” she said. “They should not be a level of bureaucracy.”
One hope for recovery is investment in intensive tutoring. The Murphy administration just announced that it will put more than $10 million into recruiting 5,000 school volunteers statewide for tutoring programs, a decent start. Some districts already have tutoring programs underway. But where is the strategy?
To see if these efforts are successful, educators need to know the scores as a baseline.
“The purpose of testing data is not to blame anyone if we have disappointing results,” said Sen. Vin Gopal, chair of the Senate education committee. “Everyone understands the conditions under which testing occurred.”
New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that have not released this data, advocates say. Yet all the DOE would tell us last week is that it will release it at a future state school board meeting, and that the next one is Wednesday.
If we do finally see it this week, will we also get a meaningful analysis and a master plan for how our state will fight learning loss? What’s the ultimate goal – to have New Jersey students back on track in two years? Three? Which districts are getting it right, and what can other districts learn from that?
The challenge is enormous. We know the kids who were already struggling fell furthest behind during the pandemic, losing the equivalent of two years of schooling, according to the nation’s report card. If they don’t learn to read competently by fourth grade, they’ll face obstacles for the rest of their lives, becoming more likely to drop out of high school, earn less as an adult and end up in the criminal justice system, research has found.
And this is our future workforce. “We can expect a lower GDP,” the chief government affairs officer at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Chris Emigholz, told the panel. “Literally, the economy of our country will be impacted by the fact that we have students who ultimately will enter the workforce with a lower level of educational competency.”
Our kids have pandemic trauma and learning loss that is jeopardizing their future employability. So why is the governor not out banging alarms about this, the way he did with his coronavirus briefings? “During the pandemic, we saw all the heads of state gather at a specific time every single day to talk about what we were going to do to help save lives,” Ruiz recalled.
Now, we deserve that same urgency in our schools.