As the NJ Department of Education proceeds with plans to deny diplomas to unprecedented numbers of seniors on the basis of this year’s Alternative High School Assessment (ASHA) scores, Education Law Center has asked the Department and the State Board of Education to release full results of the new assessment so the public will know how many students may not graduate. In a June 15 letter to State Board of Education President Josephine Hernandez, ELC made four requests:

1. We ask the Department to publicly release statewide results for the 2010 HSPA and AHSA, including disaggregated data for student subgroups and district factor groups.

Commissioner Schundler has estimated the total number of students at risk of not receiving diplomas at roughly 4500. However, without more public transparency around the test results and the Department’s hastily created “appeals process,” it is impossible to know how many students remain at risk of not graduating.

ELC’s analysis of the AHSA test population indicates that English language learners and urban students of color will be disproportionately affected by the imposition of diploma penalties on students who have otherwise met all their course credit and local graduation requirements.

2. We ask the Department to provide data on the “appeals process,” including:

  • a. the total number of appeals submitted
  • b. where the appeals came from
  • c. the number of appeals approved/rejected

While ELC welcomes the belated appearance of the “appeals process” as a way for students to receive their diplomas, we believe its sudden appearance serves mainly to confirm the many flaws of this year’s AHSA process. As of June 15, there was still considerable uncertainty on the part of districts as to the criteria, deadlines, and procedures for appeals. Numerous inconsistencies in the appeals process have been reported that may serve as a basis for students who are denied diplomas to challenge those decisions.

3. We ask the Department to track and report publicly on the impact of this year’s AHSA process on graduation and dropout rates.

Districts should be required to report whether each student who successfully completes all other requirements but does not graduate because of his/her test scores ultimately graduates by HSPA, AHSA or the appeals process, drops out, returns to school next fall, or experiences some other outcome. DOE should gather this data statewide and report it publicly, again with disaggregation for student subgroups and district factor groups.

4. Finally, we ask the Department to reconvene the SRA Advisory Committee promptly to review this year’s AHSA process and to recommend immediate steps to ensure that a more reliable and appropriate process is in place before the next school year.

It is imperative to sustain a credible alternative pathway to a NJ high school diploma. Many of this year’s problems could have been avoided if the original recommendations of the SRA Advisory Committee had been implemented, or if the Committee had not been disbanded before the AHSA was implemented. As NJDOE officials told the Center on Education Policy last November for a national report on state graduation policies: “In light of the important roles advisory committees play, officials in New Jersey recommended that states proactively connect with and consult relevant stakeholders in the early stage of developing alternate pathways to graduation so their approach can be scrutinized through multiple perspectives, preventing unnecessary complications for implementation.” We urge the Department to revisit its own advice and reconvene the Advisory Committee.

For more information: skarp@edlawcenter.org

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240