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BAYONNE, N.J. — Well over a third of students are below grade level regarding their math and English learning during this pandemic school year.  

That was the conclusion of a report released by the New Jersey Department of Education that’s now being considered by the state’s Board of Education and lawmakers as they consider next steps.

The report looked at data from every school district across the state, gathered between November 2020 and February 2021. More than a million students’ performance was analyzed. The report was published last week and also found that a majority of students in the most disadvantaged communities were below grade level.  

Specifically, it found that 37% of all students are learning below their grade level, in both English and math classes. In english language classes, a breakdown of the information for kindergarten through 10th grade shows that students for whom English is not their first language, 65% are below grade level. For economically disadvantaged students, the number is 54% below grade level.  It’s 52% for Hispanics, and 51% for African Americans. 

In mathematics in kindergarten through mid-level high school mastery, 60% of English language learners were below grade level, while 56% of African Americans, 55% of economically disadvantaged students, and 52% of Hispanics were below grade level.

Christopher Sewell is a dean at Williams College, who studies educational issues. He said, in an interview, that the report’s results reflect how difficult it’s been in New Jersey, and nationwide.

“It’s no shock that we’re going to see student learning loss,” Sewell said.

He compared to the average learning loss students have with summer vacation.

“When we think about learning loss, we think about summertime. So we talk about learning loss over the summer. So can you imagine, if [for] students in a normal year, we’re concerned about learning loss between June and September.  

This is unlike anything Sewell or anyone else has seen before.

“We’re talking now about some students who have not been full time with a teacher really being able to give them interventions that they need for over a year,” he said.

John Wisniewski, a former New Jersey legislator and gubernatorial candidate who used to serve on the State Assembly Education Committee, said that even though the recently released numbers aren’t at all pretty, he holds out hope for what they might bring.  

“The good news is that New Jersey is sitting on at least $3 billion in an unexpected windfall of cash, both from the borrowing the state did last year and from the federal assistance. Mission number one ought to be to find a way to use that resource to make sure that these children are making up the lost attainment.”

For its part, the New Jersey Department of Education warned against placing too much emphasis on the numbers in the report, because it’s not as thorough as assessments of student learning in non-pandemic years.

“The Department would discourage comparisons between the interim assessment data described [in the new report] and data regarding student performance on previous administrations of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment or other statewide assessments,” the department said in a statement in the report.

The Student Learning Assessment, or SLA test, is a detailed, days-long battery of tests to assess student learning. It has been suspended in the state until 2022 at the earliest.