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  • 2019 – A Rocky Start for Students Looking at Graduation    



    On December 30, 2018, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court Appellate Division in a lawsuit brought by the Education Law Center (ELC) invalidated the requirement that public school high school students pass the PARCC Algebra 1 and 10th grade English Language Arts (ELA) sections as their requirements for graduation. The ELC asserted that state law mandates that students take an 11th grade graduation assessment before receiving a diploma, not two PARCC tests that can be taken prior to 11th grade.


    In mid-January, the state Department of Education (DOE) filed a motion for partial reconsideration in the court case asserting that nearly 170,000 current seniors and juniors are in limbo without a clear path to graduation. The DOE asked the court to clarify that the decision striking down the PARCC graduation requirements would not apply retroactively to students who had met the qualifications as of December 30, 2018.


    The judge in the appellate court case then issued a letter on February 6th giving the DOE until February 11th to respond to a request by the ELC to maintain the invalidated regulations pathways to graduation for current seniors and making those pathways available to the members of the current freshman, sophomore and junior classes. That deadline was extended twice at the request of the Murphy administration ultimately resulting in a court decision on February 15th that postpones the effective date of the decision to invalidate the graduation testing regulations and allow all juniors and seniors to use the rules set for the class of 2019 to graduate this year and next. What must now be crafted is a solution for current freshman and sophomores and the students who follow them. The court’s ruling requires an 11th grade assessment to be administered unless otherwise changed by law. 


    Legislators in an effort to address the dilemma for high school students voted a bill sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair Senator Teresa Ruiz (S-3381) out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on February 7th that would keep the PARCC graduation requirements in place for current juniors and seniors as well, but also eliminate the requirement for the 11th grade assessment to graduate. The proposed legislation, which was approved by the full New Jersey Senate on February 21st, provides that “for the graduating classes of 2021 and thereafter, the graduation proficiency assessment or assessments shall be developed or designated by the Commissioner of Education, with the approval of the State Board of Education.” 


    With the Senate approval, the bill’s was headed to the Assembly for a vote. As of On Target’s press time, the Assembly tabled the bill on Monday, February 25th. The Association is watching all developments and will keep you informed with the latest information.


    NJASA supported S-3381 as it was being considered in committee with a recommendation to amend the bill to include the current freshmen and sophomores under the now invalidated regulations for graduation and to clarify that the state assessment program was judging students’ achievement of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, not Career and College Readiness.


    All this chaos reinforces the critical importance of the work now underway by educators working with the DOE staff to 'unpack' New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards in English language arts and mathematics into student learning objectives. This important work will guide New Jersey educators in creating curricula and, importantly, form the basis for creating a new generation of student assessments. The court’s decision and the pending legislation require that Commissioner Repollet and his staff move swiftly to develop and adopt new graduation standards, either an 11th grade assessment under the court’s ruling or something other than PARCC assessments of Algebra 1 and ELA 10 under the proposed law.


    While many individuals believe that an end-of-year examination is the best way to judge student achievement of New Jersey learning standards, I argue that educators have the tools necessary to document student achievement of the standards throughout the year, making the high-stakes testing outdated.   


    Let’s plan for an education and assessment system worthy of our students’ future, not that of our past!  NJASA members stand ready to assist in this work. Stay tuned to learn more as the work to develop and adopt graduation standards for the class of 2021 and beyond progresses.