In spite of blowback from a member of the New Jersey State Board of Education and other allies, the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education (DOE) will once again require school districts to administer its Start Strong assessments this September. These computer-based tests measure student proficiency in math and reading in grades 4-10.
In 2020 the DOE commissioned the tests from Pearson (the same vendors for PARCC and NJ’s current spring assessments) in order to measure learning loss from pandemic-disrupted schooling. Last year’s results last year were sobering: 49.3% of fourth graders scored in the lowest category in math and 41.5% scored in the lowest category in reading. “The truth is these are numbers we have seen before,” said Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz. “If you don’t think this is a crisis … then I don’t know what else will make it more alarming than this.” Students also took the traditional state assessments this past Spring (although passing the high school proficiency tests is no longer a graduation requirement).
But some think the DOE already requires too many tests. State Board member Joseph RIcca (who is a NY superintendent) told NJ Spotlight, “in my mind, this is now a doubling of required state testing in New Jersey,” he said. “This is a complete 180 from where were we talked about being, which was to limit standardized assessments and look to reduce high-stakes testing where possible.”
Ricca is referring to Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promise to reduce state-mandated standardized testing. (Murphy during his keynote address at the 2016 New Jersey Education Association convention: “I will scrap PARCC Day One.“) Julie Borst, executive director of the anti-testing/anti-choice group Save Our Schools-NJ agrees: “ Now we have more testing than we ever have. He can’t be talking about helping students’ mental health and then slipping them with more tests. It’s crazy.”
The DOE sent out guidance to school districts on Friday reiterating that, due to COVID disruption and the need for learning acceleration, all NJ school districts “are required to administer the Start Strong assessment as part of the overall Statewide assessment system. The Start Strong assessment is a valuable tool for teachers, parents, and schools that provide results in real time. The identification of the most appropriate level of supports students need in English language arts, mathematics, and science based on priority New Jersey Student Learning Standards from the prior academic year is not only informative, but essential. Results will assist in providing longitudinal data to teachers, parents, and schools.”
Here are the results from last September’s Start Strong tests: