After New Jersey’s public school students saw a decline math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, lawmakers believe enough isn’t being done to overcome pandemic-related learning loss.
The test—which was administered to fourth and eighth graders for the first time since 2019—came as many students were returning to in-person learning after extended closures and disruptions caused by the public health emergency.
According to the results of the assessment, which is scored on a scale of 0 to 500, the national average reading scores in fourth and eight grades dropped by three points from 2019 and average math scores in fourth and eighth grades declined by five and eight points, respectively.
‘Additional Support Is Critical’
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-21) called the NAEP results “a historic wake-up call that our kids and teachers need help catching up” and said the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) biggest priority should be addressing learning loss.
New Jersey’s Results
The results of the NAEP test for New Jersey students include:
- Eighth grade reading: Down one point to 270 points (42% of students at proficiency or above, compared to 29% nationally)
- Fourth grade reading: Down four points to 223 points (38% of students at proficiency or above, compared to 34% nationally)
- Eighth grade math: Down 11 points to 281 points (33% of students at proficiency or above, compared to 26% nationally)
- Fourth grade math: Down 7 points to 239 points (39% of students at proficiency or above, compared to 35% nationally)
According to figures provided by Munoz, of the $4.6 billion in COVID-19 funding allocated to the NJDOE, only $800 million has been spent as of March 31.
She went on to note that of the $2.8 billion earmarked for elementary and secondary schools, the state must use no less than 20% ($553 million) to tackle learning loss.
Waiting on State Aid
However, the state has only allocated $2 million for it in the latest budget, while about $162 million was spent on reopening schools, remote learning, employee benefits and digital divides, said the Assemblywoman.
“All the resources possible need to be dedicated to learning loss. Our kids are our future. Additional support is critical to help teachers and students meet the moment,” Munoz stated.
One solution being suggested is a bill introduced by Assemblyman Brandon Umba (R-8) that would use federal pandemic money to create a 25% matching grant program that would allow districts to establish “high-intensity, in-school tutoring programs” aimed at closing academic gaps.
According to A-4843, to be considered for a grant, a district must design a program offered to groups of four or fewer students, led by the same high-quality trained tutor throughout the year, provided no less than three times a week during the school day, aligns with academic standards and includes assessments to monitor progress.
Additionally, the bill would require the state education commissioner to report on the program’s effectiveness within three years.
Umba offered that research has shown that high-impact tutoring—which is one-to-one or small group support that supplements classroom learning—has a positive impact on learning outcomes in math and reading, particularly when it is conducted during school hours.
‘We Need To Make It Up’
Umba said, “Children didn’t get the education they deserved during the pandemic. There were digital divides, childcare issues and important concepts that just couldn’t be taught well remotely. We need to make it up to these children with high-impact tutoring that they can access during the day so they can all get the support they need.”
Following the onset of the public health crisis in March 2020 and subsequent shift to virtual instruction, the potential for student learning loss has been a major concern for parents, educators and public officials.
Data released by the DOE earlier this year painted a bleak picture of how closures and remote instruction may have affected the state’s 1.3 million public school students.
After administering an abbreviated series of tests last fall to gauge post-pandemic knowledge in core subjects, the DOE found at least 42% of students in grades 4-8 may need “strong support” to catch up in math, while 60% of older students taking Algebra may need extra help. Additionally, at least a quarter of students in grades 5-10 could need “strong support” in England language arts, along with 41.5% of students in grade 4.
Ruiz: ‘Closer Look’ Is Needed
A measure sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Teresa M. Ruiz (D-29) and State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-16) would require the state education commissioner to prepare formal reports on pandemic learning loss and school operations during COVID.
According to S-2268, the learning loss report would provide analysis broken down by various factors including, district size, grade and subject areas as well as students race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability or disability and English language proficiency.
The operational report would outline instruction formats, student and teacher access to technology, attendance rates and policies and social-emotional supports provided, as well as other relevant information from mid-March 2020 until the bill’s effective date.
Ruiz, who has raised concerns about learning loss over the past two-and-a-half years, “If we are genuinely committed to addressing learning loss and closing the achievement gap we must take a closer look at our areas of greatest need to ensure we are spending our dollars in the most effective way possible to get our students back on track.”
After passing unanimously in the Senate Oct. 17, the bill was sent to the Assembly, where it is under review by the Education Committee.