Gov. Murphy announced on Feb. 19 that New Jersey is applying to the federal government for a waiver that would allow the state to cancel administration of statewide achievement tests this year.  

The federal education department, however, issued a letter on Feb. 22 to all state education departments saying that, while it will grant some leniency in collecting data, “we are not inviting blanket waivers of assessments.” The full text of the letter is available at www.njsba.org/FederalWaiverLetter. 

The federal government, in its letter, acknowledged the difficulty states may have in safely administering achievement tests in communities where schools have been closed to in-person instruction due to the pandemic. 

It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” the letter from the federal Department of Education said. “We know, however, that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices. 

Certainly, we do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test. We emphasize the importance of flexibility in the administration of statewide assessments. 

The letter from the federal DOE encourages states to consider administering a shortened version of its statewide assessments, offering remote administration, and extending the testing window to the greatest extent practicable.”  

Requesting the Statewide Assessment Waiver  The NJDOE is making available for public comment its request to the federal DOE to waive the federally required statewide tests this spring, including the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, ACCESS for ELLs, and the Dynamic Learning Maps alternate assessment for students with the most significant intellectual disabilities. The waiver request also addresses federal requirements regarding the use of statewide assessments in federal accountability systems.  

For additional information on this waiver request, please see the NJDOE’s Feb. 19, 2021 broadcast memo. It is not yet clear how the federal education department’s Feb. 22 letter, discouraging applications for “blanket waivers” of statewide assessments, will ultimately affect New Jersey’s schools 

Evaluating and Ensuring Student Readiness To fill data gaps caused by interrupted statewide assessment administration and to ensure that students are making meaningful growth toward grade-level standards, the NJDOE said Friday that it will collect data from locally administered assessments that provide a snapshot of student learning during this school year. The NJDOE said it will provide additional guidance regarding this data collection later this month. 

In the fall of 2021, the NJDOE also said Friday that it will provide all districts with the formative assessment known as Start Strong. Using the lessons learned from the initial administration this past fall, the upcoming and improved Start Strong assessments will better enable districts to collect timely, actionable, standards-based student performance data at the beginning of the school year,” the NJDOE said.   

The NJDOE will also pilot the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) this fall. The KRA is designed to be administered to incoming kindergarteners, measuring school readiness in the domains of social foundations, language and literacy, mathematics, and physical well-being. Administration of the KRA will provide participating districts with data depicting how prepared their students are for kindergarten. The tool will give educators and families the information needed to adjust, improve, and target teaching and related resources to the needs of their students. 

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