Assembly Higher Ed Hears Grad Requirement Leg, Amendments to Link Up With NJDOE Proposed

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Just days following the release of the new graduation requirements for schools by the New Jersey Department of Education (Graduation Requirements for Class of 2016, 2017 and 2018), the Assembly Higher Education Committee took testimony from stakeholders on legislation, A-2800 (Riley), that would have sought different standards/cut scores.  Thankfully the Sponsor and Committee Chair Assemblywoman Celeste Riley is committed to conforming the legislation to existing practice of allowing the Department to set parameters when it comes to State assessments as well as equivalency options such as the ACT, SAT, or Accuplacer.  NJPSA and her sister stakeholders will be working in the coming weeks with the sponsor to develop amendments that effectuate this goal.

The Bill

Specifically, as drafted, the legislation would have required, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, all public high school students to be assessed by the end of the 11th grade using cut scores (as outlined under the bill) to determine whether a student is ready for college-level, credit-bearing course work in Language Arts Literacy and Mathematics.  

The Commissioner of Education, in collaboration with school districts and county colleges, would be required to develop and implement by the 2016-2017 school year, transition courses or other instructional opportunities to be provided in the 12th grade to students who have not achieved college and career readiness by the end of the 11th grade.  A transition course could not replace enrollment in a course otherwise required for high school graduation.

The bill directs the Commissioner of Education, in collaboration with the Secretary of Higher Education and school districts, to study the development, content, and implementation of the transition courses required under the bill.  The study would include the alignment of the transition courses to the Common Core State Standards and whether the courses should be considered to meet high school graduation standards.  The study would also determine the appropriate assessment to be used to determine college and career readiness and how a student’s level of readiness will be reflected on the high school transcript.

The bill also requires that on or before December 1, 2015, the Commissioner of Education will report to the Governor and the Legislature concerning the feasibility of the award of a State endorsed high school diploma regardless of whether a student has completed the minimum number of required credits or four years of high school if the student:

  1. Is assessed as college and career ready under section 2 of the bill; and
  2. Successfully completes any graduation assessment requirements established by the State board.

Finally, the bill requires the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of Higher Education, to develop a plan to improve college and career counseling that is provided to students in middle and high schools.  The plan would identify best practices in college and career counseling in New Jersey and nationally.  In addition, the plan would include recommendations for a competitive grant program that would be used to implement the best practices identified in the plan.  Under the bill, the plan must be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature no later than 90 days after the effective date of the bill.

The Hearing

Citing concern with the number of students who enter college who are required to remedial courses as a basis for the legislation, Riley spoke of the need to develop a ‘transitional process’ for students who do not pass either the State assessment or the equivalent alternates such as the ACT, SAT, etc.  These transitional courses would be available to students for remediation purposes at the high school level. 

NJPSA, in addition to the other stakeholders, raised concerns with the bill's departure from the score methodology employed by the Department.  The Association also cited the need for flexibility in light of changes tests and circumstances, indicating that the existing process allows for this flexibility.  NJPSA also raised concern with launching a new transitional requirement without data to inform the process.  Sister stakeholders, including NJCCVTS, also raised issues with focusing too exclusively on college readiness to the exclusion of career readiness. 

Thankfully, given the complexity of the work and the need to fully examine where gaps may exist, this transitional course development would be piloted in a discrete number of districts before anything was considered as a State requirement.  NJPSA, and her sister stakeholders including NJASA, NJSBA and NJCCVTS, will continue to work with the sponsor on developing the parameters of the pilot as well as what data points may be available out of the work of the pilot schools.