The New Jersey School Boards Association joined eight other organizations dedicated to promoting student achievement in calling for the New Jersey Department of Education to rethink its approach to the Start Strong assessment.

On Aug. 9, the organizations sent a letter addressed to Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, the department’s acting commissioner, urging that the assessment be made optional for districts with local assessment tools that yield relevant and timely data – or, should NJDOE proceed with mandatory administration – to extend the testing window by several weeks.

On July 13, the NJDOE issued guidance for the fall 2022 administration of the Start Strong assessment for students in grades three through eleven – something the organizations expressed “serious concerns” about in regard to its relevance and utility.

The organizations note that the Start Strong assessment was introduced as an option for local educational agencies in the fall of 2020, then made mandatory in fall 2021 to meet federal testing requirements for the 2020-2021 school year only following the cancellation for the Spring 2021 New Jersey Student Learning Assessment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter notes that the U.S. Department of Education and the NJDOE made clear that the mandatory administration of the Start Strong assessment was to be limited to the 2020-2021 school year as a result of the pandemic. “At the time, educators believed that mandatory administration of the Start Strong test would be a one-time measure. Clearly that is no longer the case, and the decision to add a second mandatory state assessment now, and possibly in the future, was made without stakeholder input,” the letter states.

Instead of making the Start Strong assessment mandatory, districts should be given the option of using it or their own assessment tools if they believe those tools yield more relevant or timely data, according to the letter. The organizations also take issue with the timing of the administration window, which begins Aug. 31 – several weeks earlier than the window for the 2021 test. “A significant number of LEAs do not even start the new school year until after September 5, making the administration window even shorter for those districts,” the letter notes.

In addition to NJSBA, the letter was signed by representatives from the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, Garden State Coalition of Schools, Save Our Schools New Jersey, the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation.

Read the full letter.