N.J. plans to scrap state tests this year following coronavirus school disruptions

New Jersey students will skip annual state tests this year, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday, saying the state has asked the federal government for permission to scrap this year’s mandatory tests after the coronavirus pandemic forced schools statewide to shut their doors.

“With students at home, and not in their regular classrooms, it is simply not feasible for us to be able to move forward with testing in any meaningful way,” Murphy said on Twitter, adding that he expects the Trump administration to approve the state’s request to cancel the tests.

Districts across New Jersey, including Newark, began closing their school buildings this month in response to the fast-spreading new coronavirus, which has now infected at least 3,675 state residents. Last week, Murphy ordered any schools that remained open to close and residents to stay home, a statewide shutdown that he said could last “weeks to months.” 

The likelihood of prolonged school closures means students may not be back in their classrooms by late April when the annual tests in English, math, and science were set to begin. Even if in-person classes resume by then, students still would have missed weeks of classroom instruction, which the state teachers union and others said was reason enough to call off the tests.

Federal law requires states to test students annually in grades three to eight and at least once in high school. Last week, the Trump administration said states impacted by the coronavirus outbreak could cancel this year’s tests, which several states have already done.

The federal education department will grant waivers to any states that submit “proper requests,” freeing them from administering tests this year and from using standardized test scores in future school ratings, the administration said.

“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.”

Murphy said Tuesday that the state had applied for a waiver, and state officials “fully expect it to be granted.” He also said he is working on an executive order “to address the impacts of this decision on other areas of state law,” likely referring in part to teacher evaluations that factor into student test scores.

The annual tests are also one of the assessments that high school students can use to meet the requirements to earn a diploma. Murphy said the cancelation of this year’s tests “will not impact the graduation requirements of any student.”

Devna Bose contributed reporting.