The NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) proposed high school graduation policies will narrow opportunities for students who are English Language Learners (ELL) to earn a high school diploma. Unless the proposed policies are changed, the graduation prospects of many ELL students will be at risk.
ELL students already have the lowest graduation rates of any student subgroup in New Jersey: 71.1% compared to the overall state average of 88.6%.
The NJDOE’s new policies will limit the opportunities ELL students have to satisfy State standards and earn a diploma in several ways:
- The state is eliminating the former alternative graduation test, the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA), which ELL students were permitted to take in multiple languages and formats. The AHSA was available in four state-developed translations (Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian-Creole, Gujarati), and districts could add others. Since it was introduced in 2010, thousands of ELL students have used AHSA to earn their diplomas.
- Almost all the assessments students must use to satisfy the graduation standards are “English only.” While the math exams created by PARCC, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, are available in Spanish, the PARCC English Language Arts exams and the designated “substitute assessments,” including the SAT and ACT, can only be taken in English. The “substitute assessments” do not provide ELL accommodations like extra time or bilingual dictionaries.
- The proposed graduation policies do not allow exemptions for newly arrived ELL high school students and will require even beginning and intermediate ELL students to take English only tests.
- The NJDOE’s recently announced “portfolio appeals process” for students who do not pass PARCC or reach the required scores on substitute assessments reduces support for ELL students, even though the elimination of AHSA is likely to significantly increase the number of ELL’s needing to use the appeals process to graduate.
ELL students will not be the only ones impacted by other aspects of the NJDOE’s new graduation policies, but they may be disproportionately affected:
- The substitute assessments designated as options for students who don’t pass PARCC have fees. While some fee waivers are available on a limited basis, the use of commercial, fee-based tests raises concerns about equal access.
- Opportunities for re-testing are also being eliminated. Up through the graduating class of 2015, a student had three opportunities to pass the previously required graduation test, the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), and three opportunities to pass AHSA. Each PARCC exam is given only once with no provision for re-testing.
- None of the NJDOE’s proposed changes in graduation policy have been adopted in the form of regulations, as required by NJ’s Administrative Procedure Act, thereby denying students and families adequate notice and the opportunity to comment on proposed regulations.
NJDOE’s graduation proposals create multiple, new options for students with access to the most challenging academic programs while reducing options for those who don’t have such access. For example, NJDOE recently said students could submit scores on Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) English exams in place of PARCC scores. ELL students rarely have access to such programs. At the same time, the one assessment used heavily by ELL students to graduate—the AHSA—has been eliminated.
The New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/New Jersey Bilingual Educators (NJTESOL/NJBE) have expressed serious concerns about the new graduation policies. They note that ELLs are “a subgroup which relied upon the multiple administrations of HSPA in their senior year as well as the options offered under the Alternate High School Assessment (AHSA) to demonstrate competency in English and/or their first language,” adding that “the rights of ELLs to be validly assessed in a language that they understand” must be protected.
Policy and Outreach Director
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