By John Mooney at NJ Spotlight News

The worry of so-called “learning loss” from the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the discussion around New Jersey’s public schools reopening in full this fall, eventually prompting the Murphy administration to introduce a new expedited battery of state testing to measure who lost what.

Those online assessments — optimistically titled “Start Strong” — were given over the last five weeks to nearly 1 million New Jersey students in 45-minute chunks and measured to their post-pandemic prowess in language arts, math and science.

But now comes the hard part: What to do with the results?

With the school year barely underway, the assessments were given to grades 3-11 as the state’s answer to the fact that students hadn’t seen virtually any statewide testing for two years due to the pandemic.

The state is required by federal law to provide at least some assessment of student progress, and the administration went with the expedited tests that were a fraction of the usual spring testing but would provide near-instant results on whether students were at or below grade level after two years of disruption.

And by some accounts, the administration of those tests was largely beneficial, even surprisingly so. The state’s principals association testified at the Legislature’s joint committee on public schools last week that the Start Strong testing was one of the less painful and even a useful part in what has been a tumultuous start of the school year.

Testing hurdles

“Many of our members will tell you that administering a standardized test to students who have just returned to school after their pandemic experience was difficult for both students and staff, even though the assessment was a shortened one,” said Karen Bingert, executive director of the New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association.

“Many students had not yet readjusted to the routines of a school day, let alone the taking of a standardized test,” she said. “However, our members were surprised and pleased with the quick and useful data this assessment has provided to them as the learning year gets underway.”

Those long advocating for more assessment of student performance — especially after a year when most students were left without access to in-person education — said the assessments were an important step.

“There is a benefit in measuring where these kids are,” said Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, an advocacy group pressing for more assessments of where students and schools stand. “We shouldn’t let this crisis go to waste.” …


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