VIDEO: Parents, Don’t Shoot the Messenger—Take This Test Seriously

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New Jerseyans are rightfully proud of their highly-rated public school system. 

But what’s the plan for students who have experienced severe learning disruptions from COVID-19? According to the results of the state Start Strong assessments given last fall, 42% of students need “strong support” (the equivalent of failing to meet grade-level expectations) in reading and 49% need “strong support” in math. That’s alarming, and most school districts are trying to measure students’ progress as the year goes on. Yet all the measurement in the world isn’t worth a hill of beans if school boards and school leaders aren’t taking the necessary steps to help students catch up.

That’s why, says JerseyCAN Executive Director Patricia Morgan, in NJER TV’s new episode, it is essential that parents pay careful attention to the results from the new high school diploma qualifying test called NJGPA. 

Morgan explains that the results of this test, which students took in March, offer parents, teachers, and school leaders a “critical new baseline” that all can use to chart students’ recovery from learning loss endured during the pandemic. Once we have the results, parents should quiz school boards on how they’re spending the “once in a lifetime” massive infusion of federal funds intended to help students catch up: New Jersey K-12 schools have divvied up $2.8 billion. Are school districts spending the money on high-dosage tutoring (considered the best way to directly help students) and other services that directly affect kids? Or are they spending the money (as they are in Newark) on floor polishers and inspirational videos?

Parents, if you don’t know, ask.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), told me in November, ““An unprecedented influx of dollars with zero accountability is where we stand currently. Parents can’t wait months or years to learn if these funds are being spent on things that will help their child get back on track academically or that will address mental health or other barriers to learning. They need answers now.”

In other NJGPA-related news, the State Assembly has passed a bill that would make this year’s high school diploma-qualifying assessment a “field test.” The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, said he proposed it because of concerns about how the test would affect the well-being of high school juniors who faced personal and academic setbacks during the pandemic.

Caputo is joined in the effort by the state teachers union lobbyists and Education Law Center, which argues the State Department of Education (DOE)  “did not release the data or technical reports its cut score recommendation was based on.”

That’s true. The lack of information led the State Board of Education to reject the DOE’s recommendation that a passing score be set at 725 (on a scale from 650-850), which means “partially meets expectations” in 10th grade reading and algebra. Instead, the Board voted to make a passing score 750, which means “meets expectations.” (You can read about the debate here.) Also, the DOE changed the definition of a high school diploma from “college and career-ready” to “high school graduation-ready.” The State Board’s brazen attempt to lower standards was criticized by Chris Emigholz, vice president of government affairs for the NJ Business and Industry Association. “Any attempt to lower standards,” he remarked, “is always very worrisome in terms of the future workforce.”

There is a companion bill in the State Senate, currently working its way through the legislative process. If the bill passes the Senate and Gov. Murphy signs it, this year’s test will not count towards, well, anything, possibly dampening parents’ ardor for challenging their districts to account for that “once-in-a-lifetime” infusion of COVID learning loss money. 

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