Newly released data from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) shows that only 9% of seniors passed the Department’s new PARCC graduation requirement in 2016, and more than 50,000 relied on options the NJDOE is currently phasing out to earn their diplomas.
The data was released as part of a settlement agreement reached last May between the NJDOE, Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). ELC and ACLU-NJ had represented students and families who sued the Department for implementing new graduation rules that the settlement acknowledged were improperly imposed. The State Board of Education subsequently adopted new regulations ratifying the policies, which took effect in September.
Under the settlement agreement, the NJDOE was required to provide data about the pathways used by seniors in the class of 2016 to satisfy the state graduation testing requirement in English language arts (ELA) and math and graduate last June. While district level data is still incomplete, the statewide data showed the following:
- Only 9% of 96,289 graduating seniors met the Department’s PARCC graduation requirement by passing one PARCC English Language Arts (ELA) exam and one PARCC math exam.
- Over 50,000 seniors used “substitute” tests, such as the SATs or ACTs, to satisfy the testing requirement in both ELA and Math. Under NJDOE’s new rules, the “substitute” tests option will be eliminated by 2021.
- 6,000 students used the portfolio appeal option to meet both requirements.
- Another 26,000 seniors used substitute tests or the NJDOE’s portfolio appeal option to satisfy one requirement, either ELA or Math. (NJDOE labels this category “multiple pathways.”)
- African American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students disproportionately relied on the portfolio option. While overall 6% of seniors used portfolios for both ELA & Math, 15% of African American students, 14% of Hispanic students, and 13% of low-income students relied on this option, compared to just 2% of white students.
- More than half of all English Language Learner seniors needed portfolios to graduate.
Graduation Pathways by Ethnicity
Graduation Pathways by Subgroup
“The data shows that the NJDOE’s new graduation policies are educationally unsound and need to be revised before they undermine NJ’s high school graduation rate, which is currently the second highest in the nation,” said Stan Karp, Director of ELC’s Secondary Reform Project. “If these rules had been in full effect last year, over 80,000 students would have needed portfolio appeals to graduate in addition to taking multiple layers of standardized tests.”
Jessica Levin, ELC staff attorney, noted the new rules “also violate existing NJ law in multiple ways,” explaining:
- The PARCC tests designated by the State Board as graduation exams are not 11th grade tests as required by the Legislature.
- The new rules erode important protections in the state graduation law, for example, required retesting opportunities.
- The use of fee-based tests, such as the SAT and ACT, as “options” through 2020 will restrict some students’ access to high school diplomas.
- The “substitute” assessments are also not 11th grade tests and, as the Department has acknowledged, are not all aligned with state standards.
On October 21, a lawsuit challenging the new rules was filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division on behalf of the Latino Action Network (LAN), the Latino Coalition of New Jersey (LCNJ), the Paterson Education Fund (PEF) and ELC. ELC and ACLU-NJ are co-counsel.
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