In late July, the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) released statewide results from the 2017 PARCC exams given to students last spring. While the Department highlighted modest gains in math and English Language Arts (ELA) scores, the passing rates on the two tests the Christie Administration has designated as high school graduation requirements were just 46% for ELA10 and 41% for Algebra1.
The 2017 data show approximately 86,000 students took the PARCC tenth-grade ELA exam. About 39,000 passed, while 46,000 did not. Of the 110,000 who took the PARCC Algebra1 exam, given in various grades, about 45,000 passed, while 65,000 did not. If the new regulations adopted by the State Board of Education last summer remain in effect, thousands of students could be at risk of not graduating, even if they complete all their course credits and other requirements.
The impact on NJ’s high school graduation rate could be dramatic. The Garden State’s graduation rate is currently second in the nation at 90%. Each year, NJ’s graduating class typically has about 95,000 students. In 2016, nearly 75,000 seniors satisfied the new graduation testing requirements by using substitute test options, such as the SAT and ACT, allowed under the new regulations. But these substitutes will be eliminated over the next several years as the PARCC requirements take full effect for freshman entering high school this fall (class of 2021).
A lawsuit to strike down the new graduation rules is pending in state appellate court. It was filed last fall by Education Law Center and the ACLU-NJ on behalf of civil rights and education groups, including the Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, the Paterson Education Fund and the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.
The lawsuit raises several legal issues, most notably that the rules conflict with the explicit mandate in state law for a single 11th-grade graduation test of math and ELA proficiencies. The PARCC exams designated as graduation tests are not given in 11th grade, and the substitute tests used as “transitional” options are not aligned with state curriculum standards. The lawsuit also argues that the use of fee-based tests violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal access to a free public education.
In March, the State Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject the new graduation rules. Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz also sent a letter to the State Board of Education expressing their view that the rules violated “legislative intent.” Briefing in the appeals court on the ELC and ACLU-NJ lawsuit has been completed. Oral argument on the appeal is expected this fall.
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