Education Law Center is urging Governor Phil Murphy and Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet to protect the rights of high school seniors by suspending the graduation testing requirements in New Jersey law for the class of 2020. ELC’s request follows on the heels of the Murphy Administration’s decision to cancel state testing this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the Governor and Commissioner, ELC underscores that a suspension of the graduation testing requirement is also compelled by a May 2019, court-approved consent agreement with the State Department of Education (NJDOE) that guarantees students in the class of 2020 access to multiple pathways to satisfy the requirement. The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered many of those options unavailable or no longer feasible.
The primary state tests, the NJ Student Learning Assessments, have been cancelled. The SAT and ACT, which are accepted as alternatives under the graduation testing requirement, have also been cancelled. With schools closed, students do not have access to other designated alternatives, such as the Accuplacer or the ASVAB military exam.
The remaining alternative for obtaining a high school diploma is the portfolio assessment, a pathway used disproportionately by low-income students, English language learners (ELLs), and students in high-need districts. In 2019, approximately 5,400 students used the portfolio assessment to satisfy the English language arts testing requirement, and almost 7,000 used it for math.
Completion of portfolios, however, requires significant one-on-one support from school staff for many students. Some students, particularly ELLs, need translation support to complete portfolio tasks. Students who are now at home because of school closures may not have internet access to interact with school staff and complete their portfolios. There is also no secure process for distributing and collecting portfolio assessment materials and no protocols for the proctoring of portfolio tasks in students’ homes.
In guidance issued on March 24, the NJDOE announced it was halting “all statewide student assessments for the spring 2020 testing window” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the NJDOE did not cancel the portfolio assessment.
In canceling state assessments, the Governor made a firm commitment not to “prevent students from graduating high school due to the decisions we are making about standardized testing….” Yet, if not reversed, the NJDOE’s March 24 guidance would likely do just that and undermine the consent agreement.
“The reduced availability of alternatives and the difficulty of implementing the portfolio with schools closed makes enforcing the testing requirement untenable,” said Stan Karp, ELC Director of Secondary Reform. “We are concerned that current seniors on track to graduate in June will be deprived of a diploma because testing options are unavailable or severely limited.”
ELC commends the Administration for acting quickly to support students in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis. In order to continue that proactive approach, ELC urges the Administration to suspend the graduation testing requirement for the class of 2020.
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