New Jersey education officials are seeking federal permission to waive standardized testing requirements because of the pandemic.

In a letter sent to governors and education leaders in all states, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education said it understands some schools may not be able to safely administer the assessment exams, so waivers will be considered to “extend the testing window” and offer shorter versions of the English and math exams.

Sean Spiller, vice president of the New Jersey Education Association, said getting the waiver is essential during this health emergency but the guidance from the U.S. Department of Education is hazy.

“There’s a lot of language in there that you could probably interpret in a few different ways,” he said. “It also says they’re not granting blanket waivers and you still have to do some version, so I would argue it’s not exactly clear.”

He said if the state’s waiver is granted, it could mean shorter versions of the tests would be required in September, when hopefully all children will be back in school with their teachers. But Spiller suggested the whole issue of requiring the test at all is still up in the air.

“That’s a question that I’m not sure is answered yet because there’s guidance coming in all the time that seems to be changing,” he said.

He noted there is already great concern about the effectiveness of standardized tests and virtual learning as well as the wisdom of administering a test in September, months after the end of the school year.

“Why are we adding this as another component during an already troubling and devastating time for our kids?” he said.

Dr. Richard Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the waiver request made by New Jersey includes a skeleton to gather data about what students have learned since September, which could take the place of the required assessment exams.

Instead of requiring students to take a modified exam at the start of the next school year, “we could be using the actual data that teachers are collecting in the school district about their kids' progress now and submit that data," he said.

He noted some New Jersey students have not had in-person instruction since last March.

“How do we reliably and validly administer a standardized assessment for students who are in school or to students who are in the home? What are those conditions like?" he said. "There are privacy concerns because if the assessments are in the home, cameras might have to be on to ensure compliance and it raises a whole host of other issues.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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