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Interim tests find broad swaths of NJ students falling behind

37% below grade level in English, math, including majorities of Black and Hispanic students

By Nikita Biryukov, June 17 2021 9:37 am

Interim testing of the state’s students conducted between November and February found large swaths of kids were falling behind, with Black and Hispanic students facing the largest deficits.

The Department of Education found 37% of students were below grade level in language arts and mathematics, with the rise driven by broad disparities in educational attainment along racial and economic lines.

Among Black students, 51% had fallen behind their grade level on Language arts. The same was true of 52% of Hispanic students and 54% of the economically disadvantaged. Educational attainment among white students fared far better. Just 27% of them returned test results that indicated they were operating below their grade level. Only 18% of Asian students were below grade level.

The figures were even worse on Mathematics.

Majorities of Black and Hispanic students, 56% and 52% respectively, had fallen behind, test scores showed. For white students, that figure was just 28%. For Asian ones, it was 16%.

The results have renewed calls for action among education-focused lawmakers, who have for months warned about the unequal impact remote schooling was having on the state’s young people.

“We have been sounding this alarm since last spring,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark). “We knew the pandemic would have a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable students and the data released by the Department of Education once again shows that to be the case. This is a crisis. We must address this, and we must address it now.”

Students fared better on interim science exams. Only 21% overall were below grade level on that subject, including 37% of Black students and 34% of Hispanic ones. Thirty-eight percent Economically disadvantaged students were below grade level here, along with 42% of non-native English speakers.

The Department of Education, alarmed by the numbers, is recommending “robust” summer school programs. Ruiz agrees.

“The learning loss we have seen over this past year will continue to be compounded until there is a targeted approach to resolve it,” she said. “We cannot afford to wait until September. If we are ever going to ameliorate the achievement gap, we need a summer and long-term learning acceleration plan to be implemented immediately.”

The Department warned against comparing the results to other annual assessments, saying those tests were drafted with different goals in mind and serve as poor points of comparison for the interim testing data.

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