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These are comments from New Jersey Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn on the State Education Department’s (NJDOE) delayed and partial release of last spring’s student assessments.
Since the summer, I have been requesting that the NJDOE provide information regarding the spring assessments as your elected representative. To date, I have still not received a copy of that data or any insight as to when it would be revealed and what it would say. Instead, I must rely upon the information released by journalists that reveal what we all knew — this State has a tremendous amount of homework to do to address the learning loss students encountered during the last three years of interrupted learning.
Let me be clear — the NJDOE’s decision to hold back the release of the spring student assessment data until now is educational malpractice. It is unacceptable and fails to provide school districts, teachers, and parents with the guidance required to support the students of this State.
I introduced legislation earlier this year calling for a task force on pandemic recovery for schools. Since that bill has not been adopted, I have spoken to parents, teachers, union members, and academic experts and asked them, what we should do as a State to move forward? Here are some of those ideas:
1. Legislation should be adopted to require the State to release test scores to parents and school districts no later than 30 days. This was an issue for school districts even before the pandemic. We shut down schools for a week or so each school year to conduct assessments but the information is never released in a timely fashion so that schools can take steps to utilize information. This pandemic has demonstrated this practice must change immediately, especially since the data shows that a majority of students in certain grade bands have educational gaps that require immediate attention. By holding this information back for MONTHS and MONTHS strongly suggests that the NJDOE is guided by politics and not by what is in the educational best interests of the students. Legislation that will require the prompt release of test data recognizes that the interests of students are a priority for this State.
2. NJDOE should release a plan immediately to guide districts on how to address the academic gaps. Parents should know that the comparison of student proficiency in 2022 with 2019 is not a precise comparison because the 2022 assessment utilized lower benchmarks to measure proficiency as compared to 2019 (purportedly, to acknowledge the negative impact imposed upon students). Please take a look at the data, which shows more than half of NJ’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders were not on grade level in math & English. Yet, students are required to move ahead with concepts in their current grade levels without ensuring that they have mastered a level of proficiency in lower grade levels. This is a recipe for disaster that the NJDOE must remedy immediately to support teachers and students.
3. The State must provide sufficient resources to school districts to support teachers and students with supplemental learning tools (i.e., intensive tutoring to support students that fall within these achievement gaps, provide funding so that school districts can support extended school calendars and/or days, revisions of grade-level standards to meet children where they are rather than requiring them to continue to struggle in the grade). There were many districts throughout this State that suffered a loss of State aid. Those districts are now further hindered by a substantial increase in health insurance costs for personnel. Thus, it is unconscionable for the State to expect school districts and the local municipalities to bear the financial costs of reversing the learning loss encountered as a result of the restrictive pandemic policies of this administration. It is now time to pay for those decisions and school districts need a lot of financial help to implement those learning strategies to do so.
4. NJDOE should immediately discontinue the imposition of mandates that distract attention from closing the gaps in math, science, and English. Until the learning gaps close, the priority in each school district should be on the fundamentals. Also, the reliance on Student Growth Objectives in teacher evaluations needs to be shelved because it is not fair to hold teachers to those mandates when the NJDOE is not providing teachers with resources to address this historic academic challenge in learning.
I have more ideas, but this is a good start.