Statewide results of the new PARCC tests, released by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) on October 20, indicate that tens of thousands of high school seniors will not be able to use their PARCC scores to satisfy state graduation requirements this year. No more than 41% of New Jersey high school seniors passed any of the six new tests created by PARCC, or the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
According to the NJDOE’s new graduation policies, seniors who have passed one PARCC math exam and one PARCC language arts exam will satisfy the state assessment requirement for a diploma. Those who don’t will need to use one of the other “options” proposed by the NJDOE. New Jersey is the only state using PARCC exams this year as part of high school graduation decisions.
The NJDOE’s other options for satisfying state graduation requirements include designated “substitute assessments,” such as the SAT and ACT, or the newly revised “portfolio appeals process.” While many students will be able to graduate with these options, high need students and districts will face special challenges.
Research has shown scores on the fee-based college entrance exams like SAT and ACT closely correlate to socio-economic levels. In 2013, about 60% of seniors in the state’s poorest districts took the SAT or ACT. Their average SAT scores did not reach the NJDOE’s proposed level for graduation. About 6000 students had scores near or below the cutoff, while another 4000 didn’t take the tests at all.
The revised portfolio appeals process takes on new significance this year because the NJDOE has eliminated the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) used by thousands of seniors to earn a diploma. In recent years, the number of students using either the AHSA or the original appeals process to earn their diplomas has varied from more than 15,000 in 2011-12, to about 8400 in 2013-2014. The majority of those students come from high need districts. In 2013-2014, Newark and Paterson had over 400 such students, and Jersey City, Trenton, and Camden had more than 200.
But the issue is also statewide. More than 125 districts had 50 or more students using the AHSA or appeals process in 2013-2014. The combination of eliminating the AHSA and setting a higher bar for appeals could significantly impact graduation and dropout rates.
The appeals process was originally created in 2010, when the NJDOE’s flawed administration of the then-new AHSA threatened to disrupt the graduation prospects of thousands of seniors. The process has now been revised in the wake of the first administration of the PARCC tests.
The new appeals process puts a much greater burden on local administrators and educators and requires significant staff time and resources. Previously, as part of the AHSA process, the NJDOE supplied “performance assessment tasks” (PATs), developed by the state’s testing vendor, that students had to complete to demonstrate mastery of state proficiencies. Under the new portfolio appeals process, district educators must create and score their own “constructed response tasks” (CRT) aligned with the PARCC high school exams. The NJDOE guidelines for creating the tasks are detailed and prescriptive.
Creating multiple CRTs modeled on the PARCC exams will be a challenging and time-consuming task, especially for districts with many appeals. Moreover, under the AHSA, the PATs were available in multiple languages that districts could use with English Language Learners. Under the new system, the state is not even providing English versions of the CRTs.
“The new appeals process is part of a series of changes the NJDOE is imposing on students already in high school, including current seniors,” said Stan Karp of Education Law Center. “While these proposals face a pending legal challenge brought by NJ parents and students, schools and districts must now scramble to deal with them during a time of transition and uncertainty in state assessment policy.”
The NJ State Board of Education is expected to vote on the PARCC scores for graduation at the November 4 meeting. Commissioner of Education David Hespe has said he will recommend the Board adopt PARCC Levels 4 and 5 as the cutoff for graduation. If the Board endorses that recommendation, more than 55,000 high school seniors – 60% of the class of 2016 – will need to find another path to a diploma next June.
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