In a Frelinghuysen Board of Education meeting on February 8th, Chief School Administrator Stephanie Bonaparte presented Frelinghuysen Township School’s test results from the fall 2022 Start Strong Assessment. Although the students’ performance in English language arts and math would make many parents proud, the results also indicated a worrisome gap in science.
The Start Strong Assessment (SSA) is a standardized test designed by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). It was originally administered in fall 2021 to identify pandemic learning loss in students grades 3 to 11. The DOE mandated a second round of the SSA in fall 2022 to kick off the 2022-2023 school year.
SSA test results classify students into three categories. The ideal category is Level 3, the designation for students who perform to grade level standards and require little to no additional academic support. Level 2 indicates students in need of some additional support and Level 1 designates students who require extensive support in order to meet grade level expectations.
According to Bonaparte, Frelinghuysen’s results are mostly promising.
“The majority of Frelinghuysen School students are on or above grade level,” she said in her presentation to the Frelinghuysen Board of Education. And indeed, bar graphs demonstrating student test scores showed soaring pillars for Level 3 in English language arts and math.
The picture is even rosier when considering data from the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA), which many educators view as a more accurate measurement of student proficiency. On the spring 2022 NJSLA assessments, Frelinghuysen students performed 16% above the state average in English language arts and 10% above the state average in math.
However, there’s one dim spot in this otherwise sunny picture. According to both standardized tests, Frelinghuysen’s students struggle with science. The discrepancy is glaring. Schoolwide, the students’ scores on both the spring 2022 NJSLA and fall 2022 SSA science sections designated about 80% of the students as either Levels 1 or 2.
To be fair, the SSA has received some criticism as an accurate measure of student proficiency. For one, the test itself is quite short, with some sections containing only 12 questions. In a test that short, every question accounts for a larger percentage of the final score, magnifying the impact of mistakes.
The structure of the test itself also increases the difficulty for science in particular. Unlike the skill-based subjects of math and reading, science facts must be memorized. Bonaparte mentioned weather as an example of a potentially tricky topic for student test takers: although weather knowledge is a third grade standard, it’s included in the fifth grade SSA science assessment, by which point many students will have forgotten it.
Nevertheless, Frelinghuysen is actively working to plug the science gap. The teachers are collaborating to re-pace the science curriculum while also discussing possible interventions for the students who need more extensive assistance.
In general, students of Frelinghuysen Township School have a lot to be of which to be proud. For the fourth year, Frelinghuysen has been classified as a Kindness Certified School. Frelinghuysen students will represent their school at the Warren County Spelling Bee, the Warren County Chess Tournament and the Warren County All-Star Band.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.