By Debra Bradley, Esq.
October 10, 2019
This special alert is part of NJPSA’s effort to keep our members informed and engaged on the latest news and policy developments in education.
On October 2, 2019, the State Board of Education held a tumultuous meeting where the pendulum swung from the positive announcement and celebration of Kimberly Dickstein as the 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year, to the tabling of the Department of Education’s (NJDOE) most recent proposal to amend the standards and assessment code to finally stabilize New Jersey’s state assessment policy. It has been a long and winding road that culminated in the events and wide-ranging sentiments expressed at this State Board meeting.
Background – The Assessment Roller Coaster
The State Board in 2018
Last August, the NJDOE first proposed significant changes to the Standards and Assessment code, N.J.A.C. 6A:8, after months of public outreach on the issue of assessment. The initial proposal was to maintain testing in grades 3 through 8 utilizing the newly-renamed New Jersey State Learning Assessments (NJSLA), a move away from New Jersey’s former reliance on the PARCC assessments. At the high school level, NJDOE proposed to continue state standardized assessments in ELA 10 and Algebra I in order to maintain the existing level of proficiency for high school graduation and reduce state assessment testing time for high school students. This initial proposal would have eliminated end-of-course assessments in ELA 9, 11, Geometry and Algebra II and maintained the menu of options (alternate assessments and portfolio) following remediation and retake opportunities. This proposal was intended to be an interim step as New Jersey transitioned to a new state system of assessment, while maintaining compliance with federal law.
In response to extensive public testimony (including that of NJPSA) and voiced legislative concerns, a compromise high school assessment proposal was reached in September 2018 and approved at proposal level at the October 3, 2018 State Board meeting which proposed to:
test in both ELA and Mathematics in grades 9 and 10 (corresponding end-of-course math) and one assessment in science during the high school years,
maintain the high school graduation proficiency levels of ELA 10 and Algebra I,
continue the menu of options for graduation (substitute competency standardized assessment options and portfolio appeal) with certain access prerequisites,
continue to require districts to provide remediation, support and opportunities for retakes of the state assessment requirements for graduation;
clarify assessment and accommodation requirements for special needs and ELL students,
eliminate testing in ELA 11 and end-of-course math in grade 11.
This compromise proposal was posted in the NJ Register for further public comment.
The New Year’s Eve Surprise
This hard-won compromise was thrown to the wayside on December 31, 2018, when the Appellate Division of the NJ Superior Court issued a decision finding that certain regulations concerning high school graduation requirements did not comply with existing state statute (N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-7) requiring a statewide graduation test in English and Mathematics in the eleventh grade. The Court provided a 30-day stay of its judgment to permit the NJDOE to seek further review and avoid disruption in the ongoing statewide administration of proficiency exams. This decision led to major uncertainty for students and schools, particularly students in the Classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
In March 2019, the parties entered a first Consent Order that preserved the current menu of options for students to demonstrate their proficiency levels for high school graduation for the Classes of 2019 and 2020 only. This settled the immediate issue of graduation requirements and options for juniors and seniors, but failed to change the 11th grade testing statute or address the fair testing needs of sophomores, freshmen and eight grade students, and the need to move toward stability and key statewide assessment goals.
The Legislature Intervenes
In response, Senator Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt introduced legislation, S-3381 (Ruiz)/A-4957 (Lampitt) as a stop-gap measure to modify the existing 11th grade testing statute. The bill, which has passed the Senate, proposes to:
eliminate the statutory language requiring a specific 11th grade test,
appropriately refers the assessment issue to the Department of Education and State Board regulatory process and
contains provisions consistent with the Consent Order to effectively “grandfather” current juniors and seniors to the current graduation standards.
NJPSA worked in support of this legislation in both houses but sought the extension of the grandfathering provisions to incoming eight graders (Class of 2023) freshmen (Class of 2022) and sophomores (Class of 2021). Due to a public outcry from some parent groups and the NJEA to this legislation, the bill has been stalled in the Assembly, but theoretically could be considered in the lame- duck session of the Legislature after the November elections.
This stalemate necessitated another Consent Order to incorporate the Classes of 2021 and 2022 into the terms of the existing Consent Order in June 2019.
? School Year 2019-2020 – So Where Are We Now?
As the 2019-20 school year gets underway, the NJDOE continues to meet with stakeholders seeking consensus on the future of state assessment for high school students. To date, there is no evident consensus approach, at least not within the State Board of Education whose action is required to resolve the outstanding Standards and Assessment Code issues.
If the State Board of Education fails to act by noon on November 6, 2019, the pending code proposal will expire. What does that mean? Potentially, it means the NJDOE will have to develop a new standards and assessment code proposal and start the administrative process all over again. This process can last from six months to a year. In the alternative, the NJDOE could move forward based upon the existing state statutes which require the implementation of an 11th grade graduation test beginning with current ninth grade students (Class of 2023) and the use of a non-standardized assessment option (the portfolio appeal process), absent new code or a change in the legislation. In the latter scenario, the menu of substitute competency tests may no longer be an option for high school students to demonstrate proficiency.
The NJDOE’s Most Recent Proposal (Subject to Change!)
At the September State Board meeting, NJDOE staff presented the results of the spring 2019 assessments and the Department’s intended direction for assessment moving forward in our current legal and educational context. This direction included the development of an 11th grade graduation test, as required by state law and court decision, beginning with the Classes of 2023-25 with continued efforts to work toward a next generation of assessments. The Department also discussed NJSLA Science cut scores and an initiative that NJPSA has played a major leadership role in – the development of instructional units in ELA and Math. These units unpack our state learning standards and contain statewide learning objectives aligned to standards in each grade to build professional capacity to deliver a high-quality curriculum in all schools. NJPSA has long supported the goal of teaching to equity through high quality curricula aligned to state standards.
Following this meeting, the NJDOE called together a broad group of stakeholders, including NJPSA, to present its plan for “substantial changes” to the pending Standards and Assessment code in light of the court decision, current political dynamics and the existing framework of statutes. This proposal, presented publicly at the October 2 State Board Meeting, contains the following “substantial changes” to last year’s code proposal: