Education Law Center is urging the administration of Governor Phil Murphy to apply for a waiver from federal testing mandates and suspend the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA) scheduled for this spring.
In a letter dated February 2 from Executive Director David Sciarra, ELC is asking Governor Murphy to reconsider the NJ Department of Education’s (DOE) recently announced plans to proceed with state testing despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The compelling reasons for submitting such a [waiver] request are essentially the ones your Administration has acknowledged repeatedly since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” Mr. Sciarra wrote. “In fact, they are the same reasons your Administration suspended state graduation testing last year, secured an ESSA testing waiver for spring of 2020, suspended state testing this fall, and suspended state graduation testing again this year.”
In support of seeking a waiver, the letter cites the Governor’s Executive Order of April 7, 2020, regarding last spring’s suspension of testing, which states clearly that it is “not feasible to move forward with statewide assessments while students are unable to physically attend school due to necessary COVID-19-related closures.”
As a result, ELC underscores in its letter that “[a]ny effort to proceed with existing testing mandates raises significant public health issues,” noting that “ongoing extensive COVID-19-related closures continue throughout the state.”
In addition to the overall public health issues, ELC notes that the proposed testing “would span nearly three months and further restrict the instructional time and educator interaction available to the state’s most vulnerable students, including students of color, students with disabilities and students from low-income families.”
ELC also takes issue with “the DOE’s plans to implement an untested and highly problematic computer-based ‘remote option’ for state testing,” which “raises issues of the reliability and validity of the results, the security of the data, and the privacy of student information. None of these issues has been adequately addressed.”
Multiple states, including New York, have publicly announced plans to seek an ESSA testing waiver and more such requests are likely. The national teachers’ unions and their state affiliates, as well as grassroots groups, parents and advocates, including leading education groups in New Jersey, have urged states to request waivers. The Biden Administration also recently extended the deadline for waiver requests as part of its review of all policies.
“It is incumbent on your Administration to respond pro-actively to the ongoing pandemic conditions in our state and our public schools,” Mr. Sciarra concluded in the letter. “In order to do so, it is essential that your Administration initiate an application for a waiver of section 1111(b)(2) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 for the current school year.”
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