Accountability High School Graduation New Jersey Testing

Sarah Blaine: New Jersey’s Decision to Mandate PARCC as a Graduation Requirement is Illegal

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Sarah Blaine, former teacher and current lawyer, blogs at Parenting the Core. She is the parent of two children in New Jersey’s public schools. She prepared testimony in opposition to the proposal to use the PARCC test as a high school graduation requirement.

In her testimony, she reviews what New Jersey law says about the responsibility of the New Jersey state board of education. She maintains that its action to raise the high school graduation requirement to “college and career ready” is in direct conflict with state law.

So what do the statutes the Board’s regulations seek to implement require? N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-1 et seq. require that the Commissioner develop a graduation exit test to be approved by this Board in order to obtain a State-endorsed high school diploma. Id. at 7C-1, 7C-2, 7C-4. The Statewide assessment test must be administered to all 11th grade students. Id. at 7C-6 and 7C-6.1. It must measure those minimum basic skills all students must possess to function politically, economically and socially in a democratic society: specifically, the test must measure the reading, writing, and computational skills students must demonstrate as minimum requirements for high school graduation. Id. at 7C-1, 7C-6.1. Further, if a student uses a comprehensive assessment option instead – i.e., the portfolio option – the student’s use of the portfolio option must be approved by the Commissioner of Education. Id. at 7C-4.

The problem is that the graduation requirements enshrined in the proposal for the Class of 2021 forward do not meet the requirements set forth in the statute.

First, the Statewide assessment test must be administered to all 11th graders. See N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-6; 7C-6.1. Under the Class of 2021 forward regulations, however, the tests that students will be required to obtain passing scores on to earn their high school diplomas, however, are the 10th grade ELA test and the Algebra I test. By definition, the 10th grade ELA test will not be administered to all 11th graders statewide.

The Algebra I test is even more problematic, as many students across the state take Algebra I (and therefore the Algebra I PARCC End-of-Course test) as early as 7th or 8th grade. It also, of course, makes no sense to tell children as young as 12 that their high school graduation depends on their performance on a test they’re taking now. Further, making obtaining a Proficient score on the End-Of-Course test for a course often taught in 7th or 8th grade a high school graduation requirement might well have the unintended consequence of discouraging districts from offering accelerated math programs to qualified students.

Second, I’ve scoured the PARCC consortium website in detail, and nowhere does it say that the PARCC ELA 10 and PARCC Algebra I tests were designed to measure whether students have achieved those minimum basic skills all students must possess to function politically, economically, and socially in a democratic society. Instead, PARCC is focused on assessing college and career readiness – a laudable goal, but a much higher standard than the minimal basic skills standard the Board is authorized to employ in approving a test to determine which public school students in the state will be denied high school diplomas.

Read her testimony in full. She links to the relevant statutes.

The bottom line is that the state board has created a disastrous situation. Students in New Jersey have taken the PARCC tests. Most have failed the tests. Most students will not qualify for a high school diploma. If they fail, as most will, they will have to get the permission of the state commissioner to submit a portfolio of work instead. This is a recipe for chaos and demoralization.

This is nonsense. The sooner New Jersey gets a new governor who cares about students and public schools, the better off the state will be.

The best development now would be a lawsuit to force the state board of education to comply with state law and common sense.

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