Why is NJ now testing students at the start of the year in September?
TRENTON – The state’s education chief knows school administrators aren’t happy about it but says there are many good reasons why standardized tests will proceed as scheduled in September.
The state administered the Start Strong assessments at the beginning of last school year as a substitute test after skipping the typical spring exams in 2021. It will do so again to start the new academic year, in part to see whether students enter 2022-23 in better shape after a full year of in-person learning.
“I do understand and acknowledge that there are some, even many, who are disgruntled with the process,” said acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan. “But the need of the state has to be paramount here because of the effects of the pandemic.”
Why is NJ testing in September?
Without a second straight year of Start Strong, the state wouldn’t be able to compare year-to-year progress on standardized tests until the second half of 2023, after next spring’s administration of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments is scored.
She said the state controls 10% of the roughly $4.3 billion in K-12 education funds provided by the federal pandemic recovery laws and wants to decide how to allocate that based on data, not anecdotal information.
'I do understand and acknowledge that there are some, even many, who are disgruntled with the process'
Allen-McMillan said the “summer slide” is real and that the tests offer teachers and students instant feedback on where things stand. She said each test takes an hour or less and review whether students retained the lessons from their prior grade.
State Board of Education member Elaine Bobrove said she has taught basic skills and reading for many years and that instant feedback on where students are in September is welcome.
“There is always a drop over the summer in every subject that we look to measure,” Bobrove said. “And you want to think in terms of what can we completely do when students come back to school.”
The topic was the subject of discussion at the monthly State Board of Education meeting because member Joseph Ricca is critical of the idea, as are many school administrators.
'I can’t wrap my head around it as an educator. I can’t wrap my head around it as a dad. And I certainly can’t wrap my head around it as a taxpayer'
Ricca said schools already do start-of-the-year tests locally and that the state’s mandate interrupts the first month of learning. He said the state will spend millions of dollars on the test with a fuzzy purpose.
“I can’t wrap my head around it as an educator. I can’t wrap my head around it as a dad. And I certainly can’t wrap my head around it as a taxpayer,” Ricca said.
Ricca said schools have only gotten back summary information from the NJSLA tests taken in the spring. Student-level data isn't due to be delivered until just after or just before the new school year begins, depending on a district's calendar.
Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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