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There’s been a fair amount of blowback to the New Jersey State Education Department’s mandate that this fall schools administer the Start Strong standardized tests, the same test students took in fall 2021. Why the reluctance? Many school districts use internal interim assessments–like NWEA’s MAP tests or Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready tests–to track student progress two or three times during the year. If we already are testing students with high-quality formative assessments, why do we need the state’s tests?
That’s why Janina Kusiliewicz, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Clifton schools, told the Asbury Park Press, “mandating the Start Strong assessment simply results in overtesting. Our district has a strong local benchmark testing program, which gives us much more granular individualized results.”
True enough. Yet it’s a delight to praise Murphy’s DOE, in this particular case, for doing what’s right for kids, teachers, parents, and schools. Here are five reasons why they got it right:
- Not every school district in NJ uses internal assessments (they’re not free) so some kids will fall through the cracks, with educators and parents unable to intervene if students are struggling.
- Start Strong tests are over and done in 45 minutes-one hour and designed to be non-stressful. (They have limitations but that’s another story– let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good!)
- Start Strong tests are given in September, just as school starts, so teachers don’t feel as if they’re “teaching to the test” and sacrificing valuable classtime in preparation.
- They assessments are “no-stakes”: no child’s class placement or grade, no teacher’s performance evaluation is tied to student outcomes.
- If every district is using its own tests, how does the state exercise oversight? That’s why a coalition of civil rights, social justice, disability rights, and education advocacy groups argued to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that the federal government must continue to mandate standardized testing, even amid COVID. We put our neediest students at risk without objective and comparable data that speaks to the quality of education in this moment.
Go New Jersey DOE!