One week after releasing new graduation rates that his Department of Education (NJDOE) hailed as “a more complete and accurate way of calculating the high school graduation rate,” Governor Christie ignored that data and made up his own numbers to attack the state’s urban public schools. He called state aid to struggling districts “an obscene waste of money,’’ citing as evidence what he called the “graduation rates” for Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Asbury Park, Camden and Trenton.
Instead of using NJDOE’s “more complete and accurate way“ of measuring graduation rates, the Governor made up his numbers. He grossly understated the graduation rates of the districts he targeted and failed to mention many other urban districts, some with graduation rates of 80% or more. Below are the inaccurate rates reportedly cited by Governor Christie at a May 8 Town Hall meeting in Monmouth County, followed in parentheses by the “more complete and accurate” rates reported by his Education Department:
Newark 32% (61%)
Asbury Park 24% (59%)
Trenton 22% (48%)
Camden 21% (57%)
Jersey City 41% (70%)
Paterson 31% (64%)
Governor Christie has apparently decided that any student who meets state standards by passing the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA), instead of the regular High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), should not be counted as a graduate. Although these students must meet the same course credit and other requirements as all students who receive a NJ diploma, they “disappeared” from the Governor’s “graduation” totals. (The Governor has been using the same bogus data for months to misstate Newark’s graduation rate, a practice Politifact NJ debunked, noting: “Consistently repeating a proven falsehood isn’t just wrong, governor, it’s ridiculous. Pants on Fire!”)
Both the AHSA and the HSPA are aligned to the same state standards and are developed and scored by the same commercial test vendor, Measurement, Inc. The AHSA is given to seniors who have not passed one or more parts of the HSPA. It allows for extra time and some translation support for non-native, English learners. The alternative assessment helps keep struggling students in school and on track to graduate when they might otherwise drop out.
Some kind of alternative assessment is also required by the State statute that authorizes the HSPA. The statute says, “Any twelfth grade student who does not meet said requirements [i.e., pass the State exam] but who has met all the credit, curriculum and attendance requirements shall be eligible for a comprehensive assessment of said proficiencies utilizing techniques and instruments other than standardized tests…” [18A:7C-3] [emphasis added]
Governor Christie is apparently unfamiliar with both the content of and the laws governing NJ high school graduation tests.
In 2011, approximately 13,600 students earned their diplomas by passing the AHSA. The Governor also excluded another 3,300 special education students who earned diplomas but were exempted from the state exams by their individual education plans.
The Christie Administration and Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf have announced plans to eliminate the alternative test as they phase in up to a dozen required end-of-course high school exams. This will not only likely push thousands of AHSA students out of school, but could dramatically lower graduation rates and increase dropouts.
The Governor deliberately misstated the graduation rates to justify cutting school aid to urban districts and to support his proposals for private tuition vouchers and more charter schools. Such misinformation undercuts the Education Department’s attempts to implement “more accurate” graduation rates and makes a mockery of Administration claims that its policies are “data driven.”
Director, Secondary Reform Project
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications