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Today the New Jersey State Board of Education’s Assessment Committee will meet with leaders of the NJ State Department of Education. At this meeting Board members will be asked to approve a change for how we measure student growth and achievement: Instead of using the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (created at great cost to replace PARCC assessments and aligned with New Jersey Student Learning Standards), the Education Department will urge the Board to replace these tests with Start Strong assessments, which were created as a stopgap measure during this COVID year of remote instruction.
In a memo to State Board members the DOE said that, while the Biden Administration has offered districts the opportunity to postpone assessments until the Fall, it won’t be able to properly administer these tests then.
It is unclear how DOE leaders came to this conclusion: districts are already announcing they will be open for full-time, in-school instruction in September.
Other states with highly-regarded state education systems are planning on administering regular assessments. Of the top five ranked systems, Massachusetts, which often ties with NJ for first place, will postpone its tests until May and June. (Boston Globe: “State officials said in January that the standards-based exams, which were canceled last year because of the pandemic, are necessary to measure how much learning loss has occurred since the widespread shutdown of schools last March.”) Florida, third in rankings after NJ, postponed its tests by one month. (Orlando Sentinel: Officials said it “is now more critical than ever” to give parents and educators a gauge of student progress and of what additional help might be needed to “ensure that each student is given the services and supports they need to succeed in life.”) Connecticut and Washington State, both ranked in the top five, are administering regular standardized assessments later in the spring– a postponment, not a permanent cancellation.
This past September when the State rolled out Start Strong Assessment, available to all districts at no cost (although only 10% of students took them), the DOE warned, “The reports provided by these assessments are only one piece of the puzzle used to holistically understand a student’s academic performance. They should only be used with other supporting evidence (assignments, homework, etc.) when drawing conclusions about a student’s overall academic performance without these assessments.”
Senator Teresa Ruiz, Chair of the Senate Education Committee said at the time, “the Start Strong tests will not give educators an overall picture of how New Jersey students are doing or help guide new policies.” She added,
I’m asking for a diagnostic tool that checks in academically to see where our students are, that we can break down by zip code, that we can break down by race, ethnicity and gender. If we don’t have baseline data to show to us what is it that we need to do, we will be perpetuating a fraud of being No. 1 in the country. And that has got to stop.
The Chair of the State Board of Education Assessment Committee is Arcelio Aponte. Members are Mary Beth Berry, Ronald Butcher, Nedd James Johnson, Andrew Mulvihill, and Kathy Goldenberg.
[Correction: This article originally said the State Education Department will try to “permanently” cancel the summative state tests and replace them with Start Strong, which is a diagnostic test. That was incorrect; federal law currently requires annual summative testing. It is unclear what the DOE is planning in Spring 2022.]