Responding to increasing pressure over its mishandling of a new graduation test, the NJ Department of Education has created a last-minute “appeals process” for students at risk of not graduating because of their scores on the Alternate High School Assessment (AHSA).

The process, outlined in a May 21 letter , allows district and school leaders to submit appeals “on behalf of students who failed some part or parts of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) or the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) but who have other evidence showing that they are proficient in English and/or competent in mathematics.” Evidence can include the following:

  • scores on any standard tests of literacy or mathematics taken during the last year or two
  • work of excellence in English or math accomplished in the last 6 months
  • description of proficiency practiced in the workplace
  • teacher or administrator description of extenuating individual student circumstances

Appeals must be submitted by June 7, a tight timeline for the 8000-11,000 students ELC estimates are currently at risk of not graduating next month. Many of these students have college acceptances, military obligations, or promises of employment contingent on receiving a diploma by the end of June.

The appeals process is likely the last chance to graduate on time for students who have not passed the HSPA or the AHSA. April AHSA results are due to be returned to districts by June 2. That leaves just 5 days to submit appeals on behalf of students who do not pass. Schools, districts and students will need to scramble to mount the appeals.

ELC is calling on the Department to release the June 2 AHSA scores as soon as they are available so a more precise estimate of the number of students affected can be made. We are further asking the Department to gather data on what ultimately happens to each student who is denied a diploma because of his/her AHSA scores.

ELC welcomes the belated appearance of this additional opportunity for students who have met their course credit and local requirements to graduate on time. Districts are urged to provide support to students and families by submitting the appeals and tracking the results.

At the same time, the sudden appearance of the new appeals process confirms the many problems with the Department’s implementation of the AHSA (see links below for details). While the appeals process is a positive, if tardy, response by the Department to a crisis of its own making, thousands of students are still at risk of not graduating and dropping out.

It is unclear how many appeals will be successful. The oddly defined process has uncertain criteria. NJDOE says appeals must include “a short note about why you were surprised this student did not succeed on the AHSA” plus “evidence of your choosing, that the student has attained a level of proficiency in mathematics or language arts literacy equivalent to demonstrating such proficiency on the HSPA.”

It is ironic that after a year of mishandling the AHSA process in multiple ways, the Department has ended up replacing the much-maligned SRA, which had school-level educators making graduation decisions about students they knew well, with “appeals” to DOE officials in Trenton making decisions behind closed doors about students they’ve never met.

For more information: skarp@edlawcenter.org

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240