JPS Committee Takes Testimony On High School Grad Requirements

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The Joint Committee on the Public Schools took testimony from the Education Law Center (ELC) March 15 on New Jersey’s graduation requirements.  Stan Karp, Director of the Secondary Reform Project at ELC urged the committee to push the Department of Education to modify the current requirements for students graduating this year.

The state has established several pathways for establishing the state threshold requirement for graduation, including the achievement of certain SAT or ACT test scores or the military’s ASVAB test.  In addition, for students who cannot meet the requirement via PARCC or any of the other assessments, the portfolio appeals process remains intact for students to show mastery of skills.

Nonetheless, ELC argues that lawmakers should take action to not require this year’s senior class to graduate without having to pass a standardized test. According to Mr. Karp, nearly 55,000 of the 95,000 12th graders are affected because they either did not take or did not pass the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers language arts (PARCC) test as a junior.  Karp went on to state that the department’s decision to make passing PARCC a graduation requirement was both “illegal and unfair” and that it was patently problematic to utilize the PARCC assessment as a graduation requirement in the initial years of implementation.   Karp also argues that the process violates state law and regulation because the new PARCC requirement was “imposed without revising the current statute or without the adoption of new regulations.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), co-chair of the joint committee, said she had convened the hearing to try to find out more about the problems with the graduation process.

A Regulatory Rub

Current law requires the state to test students in math and language arts in 11th grade and requires students to have the opportunity to retest in senior year but allows regulation to establish the specific test.  Existing regulation, currently in process of revision, specifies that a student must pass the HSPA, the former graduation test, or the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) (State Board Gets Update on PARCC, Hears from Public on Proposed Grad Requirements & NJ Standards, February 2016).

The Department of Education first presented to the State Board of Education changes to existing regulation at the January 2016 meeting.  State law requires all agencies to follow specific rule-making procedures, including providing notice and opportunity for public comment, before changing regulations like the graduation requirements.  Final passage of regulatory changes is expected later this spring.

Changes include: update of the definition of the statewide assessment system to incorporate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments and the establishment of a three-phase transition for PARCC as a graduation requirement, replacing the comprehensive High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) to end-of-course assessments in English language arts (ELA) 10 and Algebra I as the Statewide assessment graduation requirement.

Portfolio Capacity?

Karp also argued that the portfolio assessment process may be more burdensome for schools than in the past – particularly those with large numbers of low-income students and non-native English speakers.  Karp asserted that the portfolio process has also changed with districts now responsible for designing and compiling portfolios for students, something he indicated the Department once did.  Depending on the district, Karp argued, hundreds of students or more may have to complete portfolios.

While the portfolio process may have been modified, State officials will still evaluate these and pass final judgment on whether students who complete this process can get a diploma.  And, according to a recent NJSpotlight article, the process was changed to ensure the Department can accommodate any increased volume by elongating the review window.

One Sided?

The hearing was decidedly one-sided, since no one from the state DOE appeared to testify.  The Commissioner did, however, send a packet of information about current graduation requirements to the committee earlier in the week.

Unfortunately, several members of the Committee from both political parties were not happy with that response, urging the Department, on the record, to meet with the committee in the near future.

“The DOE needs to talk to us about this and how we are going to deal with this,” Assemblywoman DeCroce  said. “We need transparency here, we need to make things clear for the students and their families. I don’t see any other way than by having the Department of Education come here and talk to us about this.”