Big Mess at Murphy’s Ed Department: Some Students Were Tested On Material They Hadn’t Learned Yet

The past October, one million New Jersey public school students took a series of tests called Start Strong that assessed proficiency in reading for grades 4-10; science skills in grades 6, 9, and 12; and math skills in grades 4-8 plus algebra 1 and 2 and geometry. These tests were commissioned from Pearson by the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education as a substitute for state standardized tests that were cancelled last spring; taxpayers shelled out just over $5 million to cover Start Strong’s costs so that educators had important data on pandemic learning loss that would inform their instruction.

One wee problem: some students were given the wrong tests. A current fifth-grader should have been assessed on fourth-grade material; instead, they might have been given tests that covered fifth-grade material. In other words, some students were tested on material they hadn’t been taught yet.

According to,

The state Department of Education, which oversees the exams, has not received complaints that students were assessed on material they had not covered, said spokesman Michael Yaple.

The DOE should listen more carefully. According to Chrissi Miles, the New Jersey Education Association’s director of professional development and instructional issues, there were dozens of reports of students being given the wrong tests. Who is responsible? Not teachers or administrators: they don’t get to see the tests that are distributed to students and the actual copies go through student management systems, which received bundled copies from the state. This is all on Murphy’s Education Department.

Some have suggested that the error was purposeful; while the Start Strong results were dismal-–49.3% of fourth graders scored in the lowest category in math and 41.5% scored in the lowest category in reading—there will be much celebration when we get the results from the usual state standardized assessments, which students have already taken or are taking now. New Jersey conquers pandemic learning loss! And those terrible Start Strong results? “Not useful,” says NJEA’s Miles.

Others have suggested the teachers union is trying to push back on the concept that students have even endured learning loss. Here’s the (widely-mocked) view of the head of the Los Angeles arm: “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Either view seems slightly conspiratorial. Let’s not go there. Bottom line: this is another example of the cluster-f*ck of mismanagement at Murphy’s State Department of Education.

Laura Waters

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