Apprehension rose as NJSLA exams returned


Eighth grader Oscar Bird sits with his math class for NJSLA testing.

Deven Davies and Alex Perialis

After being canceled for the previous two years, the New Jersey State Learning Assessment (NJSLA) exams returned to Edison Intermediate School (EIS) from May 9-19. The test consisted of two sections, one for language arts and one for math, each taken over multiple school days. Testing also featured a science section for eighth graders. The testing was done digitally, and students tested with their math classes. Eighth grade math teacher Mr. Zachary Cruther elaborated, “The testing was done all digitally on students’ chromebooks, similar to the Start Strong assessment.”

Many students felt rather apprehensive about this year’s tests. After two years without state testing, students are ill at ease with inexperience. In addition, many individuals reported a history of struggling with the exams without any special conditions. Eighth grader James Macfarlane argued, “The test is really large and has some difficult questions, and there’s no good way to study.”

Some students claimed that they’ve never felt so unprepared for the exams, saying that they feared the test would contain unfamiliar information, and they couldn’t be expected to perform as well as in previous years. Eighth grade student Brody Toriello reported, “I feel like the exams contain a lot of information we aren’t taught.”

However, teachers were feeling very confident in their students’ abilities. They claimed from past experience that their students will do well, and say that they are as prepared as ever. It seems as though they are not afraid of a great dip in students’ academic strength from the long periods of remote learning. One example of this is eighth grade Language Arts teacher Mrs. Kimberly Swenson, who stated, “The students always do well on state testing. I think they’re well prepared.”

It is true that students have excelled at the testing in the past. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, over 70% of EIS students met or exceeded expectations in the NJSLA testing of 2019, far surpassing the state average. Of course, at the time students had much more reason to be confident in their testing ability, but the school’s history of success bodes well. As a result of this, most teachers had no plans of formally reviewing the content of the exams, or assigning practice tests. Although students believed that doing so would help them feel more prepared, teachers think that there are better methods to give students the preparation they need. Mr. Crutcher commented, “I think my students are well prepared for the exams. I didn’t give a practice test, but I make sure they have all the skills necessary to succeed.”

Perhaps another reason teachers are so confident is because of their students’ reports of the Start Strong assessment at the start of the year. The purpose of the test was to see what students knew at the time, after the long periods of remote learning – and Westfield excelled at it. The vast majority of students claim that they found the test very easy, and did not struggle with it’s content. Among these students stands seventh grader Vivien Xu, who commented “I thought that [the Start Strong assessment] was pretty easy. I remembered all the material from last year.”

Of course, the NJSLA exams are not the same. The exams are much longer, contain more difficult material, and are different in many smaller ways as well – for example, the eighth grade exams contain a section devoted to science. However, these small changes seem to be the least of students’ fears. Eighth grader Oliver Khan confidently stated, “The science exam is new, but I’m not worried about it. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

On the whole, the EIS student body is ill at ease with the coming trial, but it is something which the school’s staff and administration is sure they can overcome. Teachers use their past memories to claim that students are in a good place, and will surely succeed once again. Results from previous tests show the school’s proud history of excellence. In the end, with the positive outcome of the Start Strong assessment and students’ optimistic looks towards the new aspects of the NJSLA exams, it does seem as though the worry running through the school is not on very strong footing at all. As said by EIS Principal Dr. Matthew Bolton, “I’m sure that all [the teachers] will prepare their students appropriately, [and] I know that the testing will go well.”