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New Jersey gets green light for alternative plan to statewide standardized testing this spring
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New Jersey gets green light for alternative plan to statewide standardized testing this spring

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Most New Jersey students won’t be taking the statewide standardized tests this spring as the state’s alternative plan for assessing students was deemed adequate to meet federal standards, according to a determination letter received from the U.S. Department of Education this week.

“Basically (this) allows us to take a test that we were going to administer statewide in the fall, something called Start Strong, and use that as the data that the Biden Administration — and I think quite rightfully — wants to collect, including on items of learning loss, as do we,” Murphy said Wednesday during a COVID-19 media briefing. “So at least for the spring assessments this year, we’ll be able to put them to the side and focus on the Start Strong for the fall.”

Murphy said the USDOE letter was “generally good news, with the caveat of a couple of communities,” referring to the special education students and English language learners for whom the Start Strong assessment does not work well. Those students would likely need to complete assessments in the spring.

“I can’t tell you off the top of my head what percentage of kids that represents, but those are two communities that I think will be the exception,” he said.

Murphy said he fully expects the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment to be administered next spring.

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On Monday, USDOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs Ian Rosenblum sent a response to New Jersey’s March request for a waiver of spring testing due to the pandemic.

“I understand that your (Start Strong) statewide summative assessment is built on the state’s assessment framework and will result in information that is reported to individual parents and the public and that meets the other requirements of the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). In addition, NJDOE will continue to administer the alternate assessments in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science and the English language proficiency (ELP) assessments this spring,” Rosenblum wrote. “Therefore, the Department does not believe that a waiver is needed at this time.”

Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; and Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, issued a statement applauding the USDOE ruling.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Education has stated that New Jersey’s plan to replace the NJ-SLA standardized tests with other more appropriate assessment tools fully complies with federal requirements under ESSA,” the statement reads. “New Jersey students will not have to see their instruction time interrupted to take tests that are not helpful or appropriate under current conditions. Districts and the state will be able to use alternative forms of assessment to gather useful data that will help identify and support student needs. This is a win for New Jersey students and families as we continue our work to support the social, emotional and academic needs of students during and after this pandemic.”

This is the second year in a row that the NJSLA will not be administered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state was granted a waiver from the USDOE last spring after it shut down schools statewide as the coronavirus began to take hold.

In February, the NJDOE announced it was postponing the start of statewide standardized testing until April 5 after calls from educators and legislators to delay the assessments. At that time, Murphy administration officials said they were assessing options for testing while awaiting more clarity from the Biden administration on waivers on the testing mandate under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind under President Barack Obama.

Contact Claire Lowe:


Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. After seven years at The Current and Gazette newspapers, I joined The Press in 2015. I currently cover education.

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