📝 On top of regular state exams last spring, students took 'Start Strong' in September

⌚ Critics say the tests are time-consuming and a distraction from students' needs

🔍 But taxpayers spend tens of billions on schools and tests allow for comparisons

TRENTON – On the eve of the belated release of data showing how New Jersey students did on standardized tests in the spring, a legislative panel pondered a bigger-picture question Tuesday: Does the state test too much?

Most though not all the people at the Joint Committee on the Public Schools hearing appeared to think so, particularly given that the state again administered Start Strong tests to open the new school year in September even after giving its regular statewide exams in the spring.

“In effect, the 2022 Start Strong test was an attempt to quantify delayed learning by actually delaying learning,” said Betsy Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

Even some who said there’s a place for testing said it shouldn’t be tied to a graduation requirement, and others criticized the Department of Education for taking so long to publicly report results.

'Incredibly disruptive'

Deborah Cornavaca, director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association, said the interruption of the school schedule goes far beyond the couple of hours a day the exams are given.

“They move classrooms. They move teachers. They hire substitutes. They close down rooms for security purposes,” Cornavaca said. “It is incredibly disruptive for days to the learning environment.”

“We really need to think about how we use our time and use it for the best outcomes for our students,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex. “Because time is limited, and the more time we spend testing, the less time we spend teaching.”

“These kids need help. They don’t need more tests. And they certainly don’t need a test to get a high school graduation diploma,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex. “Local administrators and the teachers are very well-qualified to determine who should move ahead and who shouldn’t.”

All of the problems, few of the benefits

Results of the tests were at one point promised in September. Statewide summaries of test results are due to be revealed at Wednesday’s meeting of the State Board of Education.

Though schools got their results in the summer and were able to make any necessary adjustments leading into the new school year, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon said “it’s outrageous” the public hasn’t seen them, now one-third of the way through the next school year.

“Which means the detrimental impacts of testing are impacting our children and we’re getting none of the benefit or very little,” O’Scanlon said. “That needs to stop immediately.”

A contrarian viewpoint

A few details are known already: The field test for the new high school graduation assessment, the NJGPA, shows 60% of students didn’t pass English language arts and 50% didn’t pass math.

Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, also pointed to slipping scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in asking: How can we gauge where students are going without standardized testing?

“It is clear that our students are falling behind in their math and reading skills, and it’s abundantly clear,” Testa said. “Eliminating testing does not fix that issue. It simply obfuscates it.”

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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