Sen. Teresa Ruiz (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)
New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would require the state Department of Education to measure any learning loss during the pandemic and report its findings by the end of May.
The bill, introduced last December by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), requires state education officials to examine student achievement from March 2020 through June 2021.
It also directs the department to scrutinize how the pandemic impacted student achievement disparities that existed before the public health emergency, broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender, as well as among students who are English learners, classified as special education, and eligible for free or reduced price meals.
Under the bill, the commissioner would also be required to report by September 2022 on the pandemic’s impact on schools generally, including students’ technology access, attendance rates, special education services, graduation rates, teacher shortages, and district-sponsored child care programs.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) is a prime sponsor on the Senate version of the bill, which passed that body last December.
“Senator Ruiz sponsored a package of bills directed at resolving significant virtual education concerns raised during the pandemic. Addressing learning loss in all communities, urban and rural, is critical to ensuring our students’ educational experience is made whole,” McKnight said. “I am proud to sponsor this bill in the Assembly.”
The bill passed unanimously Thursday in the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee (due to scheduling constraints, bills during lame-duck sessions are sometimes heard by different committees). It already has been approved by the Assembly’s Education Committee.
In June, the state Department of Education reported 37% of students tested below grade level in math and English/language arts assessments done between November 2020 and February 2021. About 21% fell below grade level on science assessments.
The same report notes large learning gaps between students of different racial and ethnic groups, as well as “historically vulnerable” student groups, with more than half of schools’ English learners, homeless students, and Black and Hispanic students falling below grade level in math and language arts.
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