New Jersey Department of Education Asks Biden Administration for Standardized Testing Waiver

With lawmakers on both sides of the aisle increasingly calling for it, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the state will apply to the federal government for a waiver of statewide standardized testing. 

“We went over this in great detail. The reasons to apply for this waiver are many fold and very valid,” said Murphy at his press briefing Feb. 19, who in recent days had been asked by Republican and Democrats in Trenton to seek the waiver.

The governor noted the Biden administration will make the final decision as to whether a waiver will be accepted.

“But given the need to ensure our students’ instructional time is maximized, and the levels of stress on them, our educators, our school administrators, our parents and families are minimized, we are putting forward the waiver request,” said Murphy. 

Plans for Response

Acting New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said officials are taking the posture of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, but noted the request extends the testing window into early June.

“That gives us flexibility if, indeed, we are required to administer the Spring’s suite of assessments,” said  Allen-McMillan. “Our goal now is to monitor daily, as we have done in the past, to ensure that we continue to advocate for what we believe is best for the New Jersey students.”

The move has the support of one of Murphy’s key political ally, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). The teacher’s union applauded the Murphy Administration for taking a stand for New Jersey’s students and applying for a waiver from federally-mandated standardized testing.

NJEA Backing

“A waiver will prevent another disruption that pulls our students away from real learning and will ensure we have more time to focus on meeting their critical immediate needs,” said NJEA Presidents Marie Blistan.

Additionally, Allen-McMillan announced that to fill data gaps caused by interrupted statewide assessment administration, the NJDOE will collect data from locally administered assessments that provide a snapshot of student learning during this school year. 

In Fall 2021, the NJDOE will provide all districts with the formative assessment known as Start Strong. Using the lessons learned from the initial administration this past Fall, Allen-McMillan promoted Start Strong assessments as enabling districts to collect timely, actionable, standards-based student performance data at the beginning of the school year in a better way.

“We as a state want to ensure that we have data that supports the growth of students toward mastery of their grade level and their content standards,” said  Allen-McMillan “What we’re going to do is ask school districts, during a particular window, to give us data that they already have on hand.” 

State Sen. Ruiz Lukewarm 

Chairwoman of the State Senate Education Committee, State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) gave the moves mixed reviews.

“While I do not support a request for a waiver from the federal government to suspend statewide assessments, I am encouraged by the different pathways that Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan is exploring for the collection of data,” said Ruiz. “Our conversations have been robust and centered on the critical need to tackle learning loss now and in the future.”

The State Senator was more positive about NJDOE’s shift in the approach to collection of data  

“Since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago, I have been warning of the devastating learning loss that has impacted our districts,” stated Ruiz. “While the data collected does not provide the same level of detail that a statewide summative assessment would, it can help us address the current need.”

Daily Data

The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached over the Feb. 20 and 21 weekend was 682,746 with 4,485 total new PCR cases reported over the two day. There were 711 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 83,659. The total number of individual cases for the state is 766,405. Gov. Murphy previously noted there is some unknown overlap due to health officials urging those taking a rapid test to get a PCR test.

As for those that have passed, the state reported 76 new deaths over the weekend, bringing that total to 20,569. The state listed probable deaths at 2,289, bringing the overall total to 22,858. State officials noted 52 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

For North Jersey counties on Feb. 21, Bergen had a total of 221 new confirmed cases and 52 probable cases, Essex 137 new cases and 16 probable cases, Hudson 163 new cases and 14 probable cases, Morris 108 new cases and and 22 probable cases, Passaic 108 new cases and 13 probable cases, Sussex nine new cases and 16 probable cases, and Warren 24 cases and five probable cases.

State officials have identified a total of 52 cases of the B117 UK coronavirus variant in 12 counties in New Jersey, including eight in Essex County, four in Morris County, three in Hudson, and two each in Passaic and Warren counties.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,377, followed by Bergen at 2,310, Hudson with 1,795, Passaic at 1,492, Morris at 885, Sussex at 207 and Warren County at 194.

In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 17, Bergen has 280, Essex has 266, Morris has 225, Hudson has 177, Passaic has 169, Sussex has 62 and Warren has 19.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Feb. 17, was 6.9%; by region, the rate was 7.0% in the North, 7.5% in the Central region and 5.5% in the South. As for the rate of transmission, it declined to 0.88 from 0.89 the day before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 2,065 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 951 in the North, 663 in the Central and 451 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 434 are in intensive care units and 288 on ventilators. A total of 491 patients were discharged over the weekend, while 304 were admitted.

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 66,599, followed by Middlesex at 65,916, Essex at 65,638, Hudson at 61,719, Passaic at 51,064, Ocean at 50,381, Monmouth at 49,825, Union at 47,868, Camden at 38,679, Morris at 31,024, Burlington at 30,298, Mercer at 25,585, Gloucester at 20,624, Atlantic at 19,212, Somerset at 18,090, Cumberland at 11,825, Sussex at 7,702, Warren at 6,102, Hunterdon at 6,063, Salem at 4,137, and Cape May at 3,574.  

In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 8,090, followed by Union at 7,436, Ocean at 6,250, Essex at 5,954, Hudson at 5,339, Morris at 5,304, Monmouth at 5,015, Atlantic at 4,910, Middlesex at 4,756, Passaic at 4,569, Camden at 4,563, Burlington at 4,259, Somerset at 4,000, Cape May at 3,379, Gloucester at 3,020, Cumberland at 2,130, Mercer at 1,558, Sussex at 1,103, Warren at 690, Hunterdon at 610, and Salem 457.

Another 821 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 142 outbreaks involving 671 cases, with two new outbreaks accounting for 15 cases reported in the weekly update on Feb. 17. 

For North Jersey, Bergen County has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 129 cases, Passaic County has seven confirmed outbreaks with 32 cases, Sussex has six confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases, Warren has eight confirmed outbreaks with 20 cases, Hudson and Morris Counties have two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases each, and Essex County with one confirmed outbreak with 92 cases.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 379 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 13,920 of the cases, broken down between 6,899 residents and 7,021 staff. 

Cumulatively, 1,250 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,148 residents and 20,842 staff, for a total of 52,990 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,873 on Feb. 19. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,802 residents deaths and 143 staff deaths.

Vaccine Distribution

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 1,605,744 as of Feb. 21. Of those who have received the vaccine, 1,121,437 residents have received their first dose with 483,991 their second; 54% have been administered the Moderna vaccine and 46% the Pfizer. 

Demographically, 59% of those vaccinated are women and 41% men. As for ethnicity, 54% are White, 16% unknown, 15% other, 6% Asian, 5% Hispanic and 4% Black. In regards to age of those having received the vaccine, 40% are 65 years old or olders, 27% are between the ages of 50-64, 25% are between the ages of 40-49, and 8% are between the ages of 18-29.  

In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 181,936 doses, Essex 130,670 doses, Morris 117,778 doses, Passaic 72,917 doses, Hudson 72,268 doses, Sussex 24,682 doses, and Warren 14,915 doses. 

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