At the invitation of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Stan Karp, Education Law Center’s Director of Secondary Reform, presented data compiled by Monete Johnson, ELC Research Associate, on the potential impact of the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) new graduation policies at a March 15 hearing. The presentation focused on the large number of current high school seniors who will not be able to use PARCC scores to meet graduation requirements.
ELC’s presentation included the following information:
- 22,000 students did not pass the PARCC English Language Arts 11 (ELA11) exam, while another 32,000 students who are now seniors were not tested. Therefore, more than 54,000 of the approximately 95,000 students in the class of 2016 will not be able to use PARCC scores to graduate.
- Passing rates on the ELA11 exam—the only free state test given to all juniors—were 52% for African American students, 57% for Hispanic students, and 69% for white students.
- Economically disadvantaged students who were tested had a passing rate of 55%, about 15 points lower than non-economically disadvantaged students. The passing rate for high income districts was 78%, and for middle income districts 64%.
- Only 27% of English language learners and 31% of students with disabilities passed the ELA11 exam, the lowest passing rates for student subgroups.
- More than 30,000 seniors took, but did not pass, the PARCC math tests. The passing rate for seniors who took the Algebra I exam was only 4%. Many more seniors took the Algebra II exam, but only 23% passed. Only 18% of seniors passed the Geometry exam.
Under the NJDOE’s new policies, students must pass one PARCC ELA test and one PARCC math test to satisfy the requirement or submit a qualifying score from a designated “substitute assessment.” Less than half the senior class of 2016 will be able to meet the requirement with PARCC scores.
Mr. Karp indicated that significant numbers of students will also struggle to satisfy the new graduation requirements through the “substitute assessments,” which include the SAT, the ACT and other commercially-produced tests. For example, in 2014, eight of the ten largest low-income districts had average SAT scores below the Department’s “cut score” for graduation, and about a third of the senior class did not take the SATs at all.
The ELC presentation included newly available data about the number of students who had not met the new graduation requirements through any of the Department’s options as of February 2016. In Newark, over 1000 students remain at risk for graduation this June. In Paterson, the number is between 600 and 700.
Joint Committee members asked several questions about the costs and burdens the new rules put on districts. Mr. Karp said districts were spending scarce funds on extra rounds of testing and devoting significant staff time to preparing graduation appeals, even in traditionally high-performing suburban districts. Committee co-chair, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, noted that she had heard from a number of districts that reported three or four times the number of appeals from previous years. The appeals process requires submission by the school district to the NJDOE of a portfolio containing evidence of student mastery of the State’s curriculum standards.
Large high needs districts like Newark and Paterson are scrambling to prepare hundreds of appeals—some of which require extra afterschool and Saturday sessions—amidst crippling budget cuts.
ELC’s presentation also noted that the NJDOE’s new graduation policies violated the state graduation statute and the Department’s own assessment regulations. This has led to a legal challenge brought on behalf of NJ parents and students now pending in an administrative law court.
Commissioner of Education David Hespe declined an invitation to testify before the Joint Committee.
The Committee ended the hearing with expressions of concern and a resolve to explore steps the Legislature could take to address the situation and ensure that the NJDOE’s new testing policies do not prevent thousands of students from graduating this June.
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