New Meridian’s Start Strong(™) assessment, a beginning-of-year test that takes a single class period and delivers quick feedback, is being rolled out statewide in New Jersey, a system with hundreds of districts, thousands of schools and more than 1 million students.

For states pursuing flexibility, a beginning-of-year test can be the foundation of a reliable, data-driven approach to recovery. So it was in New Jersey, where the state’s assessment plan was given the greenlight by the U.S. Department of Education precisely because the state is administering Start Strong, according to a letter from the department in April.

The rollout follows a pilot program in which the test was administered to 78,000 students in New Jersey schools, with the purpose of giving educators more information about how to better support students. The program was Start Strong’s debut after launching in fall of 2020.

IIn a survey that followed the administration, Start Strong received high marks from educators. Nearly three quarters (74 percent) said the Start Strong results were helpful in making instructional decisions for individual students and even more (76 percent) said the same for groups of students or entire classes.

“Start Strong was developed quickly to meet an urgent need for educators to have data in hand to inform instruction,” said Kristopher John, vice president for product strategy at New Meridian. “While the administration was successful, educator feedback on every aspect of the experience is critical to validate and improve the quality of our products. The survey provided real-world feedback from Start Strong users.”

The survey will be used to adjust the test to better support educators working in extremely difficult conditions. John said the feedback is critical.

“We are already enhancing the test, as well as the materials and the procedures that surround it,” he said. “Input from teachers, administrators and assessment coordinators is absolutely essential.”

‘An Extraordinary Moment in History’

In a world in which time for learning is increasingly precious, the Start Strong assessment was created as a flexible tool to deliver quick feedback and help guide instruction. New Meridian designed and developed the assessments for math and English language arts in grades 3 to 8 and high school, all based on the most critical learning standards. They can be administered in either a classroom or virtual setting.

The result is an assessment that delivers immediate insight into student needs for additional instructional support brought about by pandemic-related school closures.

“This is an extraordinary moment in history. Teachers and families are being asked to make impossible decisions, and there’s a strong need for data to guide those efforts. Our mission is to provide educators and families with the tools they need to make more informed decisions to support their students.”

Arthur VanderVeen, CEO of New Meridian

Start Strong was designed to allow teachers to make the most of limited instructional time and help to accelerate learning. Its multiple-choice and technology-enhanced assessment items are machine-scorable, offering teachers, schools and districts valuable feedback without a major investment of time.

Teachers use Start Strong data to focus instruction, select instructional materials, and provide the right level of student support. Districts use it to allocate funding and services, assign math and ELA coaches and plan professional development.

The early indicators are that the test was well received. The survey showed that 9 out of 10 (92 percent) said the test design was clear. Of course, the test and the supports surrounding it will continue to improve, based on suggestions from teachers, administrators and testing coordinators.

As John said, “Our goal is to provide educators with powerful, easy-to-use tools to help their students learn.”