Results from a statewide test administered in fall 2021, when New Jersey school districts were required to bring their kids back into the classroom for live learning, reveal how remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic may have impacted student progress.

When tested on what they should know from prior grades, at least 42% of students in grades 4 through 8 demonstrated that they may need "strong support" to catch up in mathematics, along with 60% of older students taking algebra.

In every grade from 5th through sophomore year of high school, at least a quarter of students presented the potential need for "strong support" in the area of English and language arts, along with 41.5% of students in grade 4.

Results of the Start Strong assessment were presented during the New Jersey State Board of Education's monthly meeting on Wednesday. The 45-minute Start Strong test was administered in September and October, designed to offer immediate results to educators.

"It is alarming, it is heartbreaking, it is disturbing where we are here in the state of New Jersey," state Sen. Teresa Ruiz said of the results during a Thursday meeting of the Senate Education Committee, which she chairs.

"Overall, students have dropped down, but when you peel back that film and you look at Black and Latino students, the numbers are extraordinarily high," Ruiz said.

In grade 4, for example, 74.3% of African American students tested at the Level 1 category in math, suggesting they need strong support to get their knowledge to a fourth-grade level. Close to 70% of Hispanic students tested the same, compared to 33.6% of white students.

The results also showed that students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners were more likely to have fallen behind.

The required assessment tested English and language arts knowledge in grades 4-10, math in grades 4-8, Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, and science in grades 6, 9 and 12.

Gilbert Gonzalez, acting assistant commissioner for the division of teaching and learning services in the New Jersey Department of Education, said leaders can use the Start Strong results as a data point as they continue to learn about what students need in order to "get back on track during the 2021-2022 school year."

"It's also important to note that the Start Strong assessment data is in line with national trends observed throughout the pandemic," Gonzalez said. "National observations indicate that students may need more support in math and reading, younger students may need more support than older students ... and achievement gaps for historically underserved students have persisted."

New Jersey has received more than $4.3 billion in federal funding to be used in part to combat learning loss caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Ninety percent of those funds has already gone to districts.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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