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Student assessments delayed, reduced after harm of school closings

Student assessments delayed, reduced after harm of school closings

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The unnecessary and unscientific closing of New Jersey public schools has cost children shocking amounts of educational progress.

A Stanford University study last fall of 19 states estimated students lost 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and 136 to 232 days in math in last year’s spring closures alone. University of Pennsylvania researchers estimated that reduced education from school closures by Oct. 1 had cost students “4% to 5% of their lifetime wage earnings.”

Many regular indicators of school performance from the state Department of Education are missing during the pandemic. When the latest statewide reports came out last month, they lacked information on student growth, academic achievement and chronic absenteeism. Data on college and career readiness, rate of graduation, drop-outs, violence and vandalism were incomplete.

Now Gov. Phil Murphy, under pressure from the N.J. Education Association teachers union and an association of school superintendents, has gotten approval from the Biden administration to make a delayed and reduced assessment of student learning.

Ordinarily, the state and schools this spring would administer to students the NJ Student Learning Assessment — the annual extensive battery of tests in language arts, math and science required by the Obama administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act. That revealed each student’s strengths and weaknesses, enabling parents and teachers to target instruction and help precisely where it’s most effective.

Instead, the state will administer an abbreviated test in the fall, “something called Start Strong,” Murphy said. The federal Department of Education has told New Jersey it will accept the results of that brief test in lieu of the extensive Student Learning Assessment data.

The teachers union said Start Strong tests may be a lite version of the regular Every Student Succeeds Act assessment but have the advantage of taking up just a single class period.

This will be the second straight year that children don’t receive the NJ Student Learning Assessment. Last year, New Jersey canceled the standardized test due to the COVID pandemic.

The full assessment would have been invaluable in determining each student’s gaps in learning and where to direct remedial work for greatest efficiency. It would have yielded data comparable to that of years past, making clear the effect on students of school closures and online instruction.

Now families will have to wait at least two years for this information essential to supporting their children’s educational progress. For many children, it will come too late or not at all.

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