The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has released the first data report required by the settlement agreement reached last month between Education Law Center and the NJDOE to resolve a lawsuit over new high school graduation policies. A preliminary analysis of the partial data provided so far reveals several significant trends:

  • More than 10,000 current seniors have used the “portfolio review” process to satisfy the state assessment requirement for graduation. The portfolio review allows students to submit graded work samples, school transcripts and other materials in place of standardized test scores to meet the requirement.
  • The substitution of the new PARCC exams for the State’s previous graduation tests – the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) – has dramatically increased the number of students using portfolios to earn a diploma. (More than half the senior class  – over 50,000 students – did not take or did not pass PARCC.) The number of portfolios submitted by districts for 2016 is already more than six times that of previous years.
  • Students in both suburban and urban districts across the state have used the portfolio option. Fifty-six districts submitted more than 100 portfolios; one hundred submitted more than 50; and nearly one hundred fifty districts submitted 10 or more. Many districts doubled the number of students using portfolios compared to the number who had used the prior AHSA option.

The settlement agreement was reached on May 6, 2016, in T.B. et. al. v. NJDOE, a challenge by parents, students and Education Law Center to the State’s imposition of new testing rules for high school graduation. The settlement enhanced procedural rights for students and strengthened the role of districts in making final graduation determinations. It also guaranteed seniors in the class of 2016 access to the portfolio process through September 1, keeping the portfolio option open for students facing denial of a diploma due to the NJDOE’s new graduation rules.

The settlement agreement also acknowledged that the NJDOE imposed the new rules without following the required legal procedures.

However, the data released so far provides only a partial picture of the overall impact of the new graduation requirements. The settlement requires the NJDOE to provide data periodically, by district and subgroups, on the number of students who have completed a portfolio as well as “the number of current seniors who have not yet satisfied the state assessment requirement for graduation” (i.e., students who did not achieve the required scores on either PARCC exams or the NJDOE’s “substitute assessments” and have not successfully completed the portfolio). 

But according to the NJDOE, over 150 districts—about half the number of New Jersey districts with high schools—so far did not report data. This lack of data prevents a comprehensive analysis of the effects of the new graduation policies on vulnerable student subgroups. ELC is now pressing the NJDOE to collect and provide the missing data.

While the increased use of the portfolio process is statewide, the bigger urban districts with large populations of high need students have made the most use of the process. Newark (581), Paterson (649), Jersey City (429), Camden (350), Trenton (349), and Elizabeth (292) have each processed hundreds of portfolios, a paper heavy, time-consuming process.

Districts using the portfolio process have incurred extra costs for staff time, additional test administrations, and afterschool and Saturday sessions devoted to preparing portfolios for review. Until the recent settlement agreement, some districts, such as Newark, also spent significant funds to translate native language portfolios for English language learner students into English for NJDOE review.

Students who had to complete portfolios after multiple rounds of testing also faced lost instructional time, increased stress and disrupted senior plans. In some districts, extended efforts to satisfy the new testing requirements meant students were not certified for graduation in time to qualify for summer college transition programs, such as those connected with the Educational Opportunity Fund.

While the NJDOE claims to be reducing standardized testing in response to parent and educator concerns, the  new graduation requirements have led to a significant increase in high school testing. The 11th grade HSPA has been replaced by six end-of-course PARCC exams spread across grades 9-12. Many seniors who did not pass PARCC also took SATs or ACTs, plus multiple administrations of the Accuplacer or the ASVAB military test. Paterson scheduled 13 administrations of the ASVAB in an effort to secure a diploma for students who had met all other graduation requirements.

The settlement agreement requires the NJDOE to update the graduation data on July 1, August 1 and September 15. A final report, which will give a more complete  picture of the impact of the new graduation policies, including data on which options students used to satisfy the NJDOE’s new rules, will be issued by the NJDOE in December.

The State Board of Education is presently considering proposed regulations that would require students to pass the PARCC ELA 10 and Algebra I exams to earn a diploma beginning in 2021. Only the portfolio would remain as a graduation option for students who did not pass PARCC. Public comment on the NJDOE’s proposal closes on July 15.


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Press Contacts:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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