Test scores show big post-COVID drop. What plans do lawmakers have to help?

National test scores released this week showed students’ proficiency in math and reading plummeted in the past three years, a signal that the pandemic had a devastating impact on education.

But New Jersey legislators haven’t been waiting on the feds to confirm the declines in test scores many long predicted — they already have a bevy of bills in the pipeline intended to help kids catch up.

Late. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) thinks the answer is a longer school day or year to give students more instructional time. She introduced a bill earlier this month that would create a pilot program, with as many as 20 school districts getting up to $1 million a year to participate.

“The futures of our students are at serious risk, as is the long-term impact on higher education, our labor market, and society as a whole,” Turner said in a statement. “We need to act now to ensure that the supports are in place to allow for learning recovery.”

Three bills would require a state-specific study of so-called learning loss.

One would direct the state education commissioner to report how the pandemic impacted student achievement. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), passed unanimously in the full Senate earlier this month but remains stalled in the Assembly.

Another would task the commissioner with reporting on the pandemic’s effect on students with developmental disabilities. And a third would establish the “COVID-19 Learning Loss Study Commission,” a 13-member panel of legislators, educators, and parents that would compare current academic performance with preexisting achievement disparities.

Neither of those bills has advanced since being introduced.

A bill Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex) introduced last month would require the state Department of Education to establish a central registry of people and groups available to tutor struggling students for free.

And after the pandemic worsened a long-brewing teacher shortage, legislators introduced several bills to open up career paths to teaching and recruit more teachers of color.

Govt. Phil Murphy signed a new law in July that waives the exit exam requirement for the class of 2023.

Last week, the Assembly’s education committee held a hearing on learning loss, and educators from around the state had plenty of advice for legislators.

Tony Trongone, superintendent of Millville Public Schools, applauded any effort to expand the state’s teaching ranks and reduce class sizes.

“Teachers are tired,” he said.

He also called on lawmakers to quit focusing on quantifying what students lost during pandemic-related school closures, because assessments reduce instructional time and divert teachers’ attention from teaching.

“Stop piling on new mandates,” he said.

Legislators should watch their words and change messaging around learning loss, said Rachel Goldberg, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools.

“Let’s not be sucked into a narrative around failure, but rather what schools need to support our students,” Goldberg said.

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