Teachers, school administrators and activists say the Murphy administration should seek permission from the federal government to skip this spring’s mandatory state standardized tests.

The tests were waived last spring, at the start of the pandemic. Some states are already seeking the federal waivers again, and the Biden administration has extended the Feb. 1 deadline for making that request.

At a Tuesday hearing of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said the Biden administration has not yet signaled whether it will approve such waiver requests and that the NJDOE is monitoring federal guidance.

“We understand, however, that it is impossible to accelerate learning if you cannot measure it, either with standard statewide assessment data or with local information on student performance,” Allen-McMillan said.

“Having learned valuable lessons from our administration of an optional formative assessment this past fall, namely the Start Strong assessment, we are exploring how to norm formative assessment this year and ways to expand formative assessment options next school year,” she said.

Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said the Biden administration is encouraging states to apply for waivers and that she is “completely perplexed” the state is moving ahead with plans for standardized tests that will cost almost $30 million.

“We have unprecedented challenges,” Blistan said. “We cannot accept business as usual going forward, especially when we have a waiver and an opportunity to get away from the stress of student standardized testing, which by the way is completely invalid, unreliable. We already know we can’t secure the test and the administration.”

The Murphy administration has already said data about students’ progress as measured by the NJSLA standardized tests won’t be used to assess teacher performance.

Millburn Superintendent of Schools Christine Burton said the standardized testing itself could hurt the mental health of students coping with school disruptions – and in some places, fully online learning – since March.

“Isn’t is obvious that there is going to be a delay in what they’ve been able to learn?” Burton said.

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Burton likened the prospect of online assessments taken from home to the early days of field testing for the PARCC tests, the precursor to the current NJSLA.

“Even with days of preparation for online tools, doing the test there were students in the elementary through the high school that were in tears over the frustration and not being able to navigate the online testing expectations,” she said. “Is this the climate that is best able to address students’ current fragile mental health during the middle of a pandemic? My concern: Will these scores be valid and reliable data of students’ performance?”

Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, also recommended the state secure a waiver of the standardized testing requirement.

“No one test is going to tell us where students are right now. That is a fallacy, and we’re falling back on it simply because it’s what we’ve always done. Now is the time not to do what we have always done,” Wright said.

“It is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “The data will certainly fail to be reliable given the number of variables impacting the test-taking environments during a pandemic. It will be impossible to ensure that the results yield meaningful information.”

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