-Jennie Lamon, Assistant Director of Government Relations, NJPSA
The NJ State Board of Education met on Wednesday, May 3rd for their regular monthly meeting. During this meeting, the State Board adopted new proficiency level cut score standards for the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment Mathematics and English Language Arts and the Alternate Assessments. By a narrow, 6 to 5 vote, the Board voted to set the minimum passing score on the high school graduation exam to 725, backing down from their proposal of one year ago to set the cut score at 750, and bringing closure to what has been a lengthy, and oftentimes, contentious debate over the new exam. In casting the tie-breaking vote, Board President Kathy Goldenberg stated, “To be clear, I am listening to the experts in the field that feel that 725 should be the cut score.” NJPSA had sent a letter, RE: NJGPA Cut Scores to all State Board members on Monday, before Wednesday’s critical vote, advocating for the 725 cut score.
The NJGPA was first administered to high school juniors last year as a field test only, and with a commitment by the Board to review the data provided by the Department of Education from the field test. In April of this year, the DOE presented data concluding that a 750 cut score both lowered passing rates on the alternative assessments and increased the probability that significantly more students will graduate through the portfolio appeals process. Representatives from the DOE projected that with a cut score of 750 in play, only 39% of the students would reach the mark and be deemed “graduation ready” in the English Language Arts assessment. This compares to 80% of the students who scored at least 725 on the 2022 exam. In Math, with a 750 bar in place, 49.5% of the students would be deemed “graduation ready,” compared to the 56.5% who achieved a score of 725 or better in 2022. Despite this detailed analysis, the Board still appeared reluctant to relinquish the 750 level during that April discussion.
As a result, NJPSA submitted its advocacy letter to the State Board, asserting that not only will a 750 cut score place a high stakes burden on students already suffering negative impacts from the pandemic, the portfolio process will increase that burden by taking away potential career and vocational opportunities and long-awaited elective choices in the senior year. We underscored that our students have already given up too much in their learning options as a result of the pandemic, and to deem such a high number of students “not graduation ready” based upon a singular factor would be grossly unfair. NJPSA urged the State Board to vote in support of establishing the NJGPA cut score at the 725 mark as a fair standard for today’s state high school graduation assessment.
As we all know, students learn differently and can effectively demonstrate knowledge and proficiency for high school graduation in numerous ways that are all governed by the New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS). In order to be eligible for high school graduation, students must meet multiple measures – measures that provide balance and fairness to our students.
During the debate over the cut score, several Board members referenced the information provided by NJPSA members and other education stakeholder groups. It became clear that hearing directly from the experts in the field made a meaningful impact on the Board’s deliberations. NJPSA members were particularly helpful in sharing their expertise and real world experiences from the NJGPA field test with the Class of 2023. These members generously spent their free time helping to craft our testimony. Unquestionably, these voices from the field made the difference between last year’s vote for 750 (7-3) and this year’s vote for 725 (6-5). When NJPSA members advocate, it truly makes a difference, and genuinely helps NJ students.
The Class of 2024, currently juniors in high school, will be the first taking the new test, and will be subject to the newly adopted cut score of 725. Currently, New Jersey is one of nine states that still requires a high school exit exam.
While the cut score debate was the big news of the day, the State Board of Education on Wednesday also adopted a Resolution in Honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month in New Jersey, adopted a Resolution in Recognition of Physical Education Fitness and Sports Month in New Jersey, recognized Teacher Appreciation Week with a special video, established dates for its monthly business meetings and public testimony sessions for the 2023-2024 school year, heard a presentation and update about the New Jersey Italian Heritage Commission regarding its mission and goals, curriculum lesson examples and upcoming and ongoing projects. The Board also heard a proposal from the DOE on two limited amendments to Chapter 14 in order to ensure students continue to receive all the services to which they are entitled. As you may know, Chapter 14 is the chapter that sets forth the rules and regulations for providing students with disabilities a free, appropriate, public education. The proposed amendments would add new language that will allow school districts to provide students with disabilities the related services required by their IEPs through virtual or remote platforms in limited circumstances. View the Department’s presentation to the Board here. The Board will further discuss this proposal at next month’s meeting.
After the conclusion of the meeting, the State Board members heard testimony from members of the public on the Draft Revisions to New Jersey Learning Standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts, the Readoption with amendments to Chapter 7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education and Open Topic. The State Board will meet again on Wednesday, June 7th.
For more information about the State Board of Education’s agenda items, or any other regulatory or legislative question, please reach out to your NJPSA Government Relations team. Director Debbie Bradley email@example.com, or Assistant Director Jennie Lamon firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in getting more involved with advocacy, please consider joining the NJPSA Legislative Committee.