The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) on March 17 directed school districts to prepare to administer statewide student tests this spring while New Jersey continues to seek permission from the federal government to cancel the tests – as it did last year.

That is the complicated guidance districts have received as they try to make plans for the rest of the school year. NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod said that it is unfortunate that schools are unable to devote their full resources to fighting the pandemic, and instead, must expend time and energy on planning for tests that may, or may not, be administered.

“We continue to advocate, with the other major educational organizations in the state, for the federal government to grant a waiver from the requirement to administer the assessments this year,” said Feinsod. “We understand the value of student achievement data, but districts need all the resources they can muster to address the difficult challenges presented by pandemic.”

So far, the Biden administration continues to require the tests. On March 17, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told reporters he didn’t plan to change the Education Department decision on standardized testing, which was announced in February before he was confirmed by the Senate.

“The guidance that we provided at the agency last month is the guidance that we’re going with moving forward on assessments to see where students are after this pandemic,” Cardona said.

The federal Education Department guidance released last month said the agency wouldn’t excuse states from a federal requirement to conduct annual assessments, declining to issue the same blanket waivers as the Trump administration did last spring at the start of the pandemic.

Instead, department officials said they planned to give states “significant flexibility” in how they conduct the tests this year, though it has not yet defined what that leeway will entail.

The February guidance said that schools will have the option to administer shorter tests, conduct them virtually or delay the assessments until later into the summer or fall.

Also on March 17, the NJDOE told districts to administer the tests while it works to achieve a better outcome.

“While the NJDOE is pursuing all flexibilities possible via the waiver process, school communities must prepare for all contingencies,” the NJDOE said in a broadcast memo, which said the state formally applied for a waiver from the tests on March 19.

“Under federal law, the USED (U.S. Education Department) has 120 days from submission to respond to NJDOE’s waiver request. If the waiver is denied or is still pending as of the scheduled dates for administration, spring assessment administration will move forward as required by federal law. For this reason, the NJDOE will resume a significantly amended statewide assessment administration this spring. In these difficult circumstances and while the NJDOE continues to advocate for federal flexibilities on behalf of New Jersey schools, the NJDOE encourages local education agencies (LEAs) to make their best efforts to plan for and administer statewide assessments this spring.

“While the NJDOE expects that most districts will administer the (assessments) on-site and in-person given the prevalence of fulltime in-person and hybrid instructional models, the NJDOE will maintain the option to administer the (assessments) remotely.”

Read the full NJDOE broadcast memo here.