As spring testing begins, high school sophomores and freshmen remain in limbo without clear rules for graduation—even though tens of thousands have passed the same tests the State is allowing seniors and juniors to use to graduate.
Nearly half of the students in the class of 2021 have already earned scores that would satisfy the graduation testing requirement under rules the state is applying to the classes of 2019 and 2020.
According to NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) assessment data:
- 54,000 current sophomores passed English Language Arts 9 (ELA9) last year, and 45,000 passed Algebra I. Those test results would satisfy the English Language Arts and math requirements under the 2019 graduation rules.
- Thousands of 9th graders will also pass these tests this spring. For the past three years an average of 50,000 freshmen have passed ELA9 and 42,000 have passed Algebra 1.
- Many more freshmen and sophomores would meet the testing requirement if given access to the “substitute assessments” (SAT, ACT, PSAT, etc.) that juniors and seniors can use under the 2019 rules.
However, currently there are no graduation rules at all for the classes of 2021 and 2022, and so far, the NJDOE has not agreed to allow sophomores and freshmen to use their scores to meet the testing requirement.
In December, an appellate court ruling found the graduation testing regulations in violation of state law. Following the decision, the Murphy Administration signed a consent agreement that allowed current seniors and juniors to use their previous test scores to meet the requirement for graduation. In asking the court to grant that request, the State argued:
“No one disputes that these students have shown, to the satisfaction of the Department, that they possess those basic skills necessary ‘to function politically, economically and socially in a democratic society.’ N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-6.1. They should not be punished for meeting those standards too early.”
Yet the Administration has not extended the same request for 9th and 10th graders who are taking the same tests previously designated by the NJDOE as graduation exams.
Last month, a bill passed the State Senate that would have allowed seniors and juniors to graduate under the 2019 rules. But it did not include the same pathways for freshmen and sophomores and made other controversial changes to the graduation statute. The Assembly did not vote on the bill.
Clarifying pathways to graduation for current 9th and 10th graders remains a pressing priority for the NJDOE, school districts, students and their families. Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet has said that “minimizing the impact” of the court decision on students who are on track to graduate is “of the utmost priority for the Department.”
“The easiest way to do that would be to ask the court to extend the consent agreement to include the classes of 2021 and 2022,” said Stan Karp, Director of the Secondary Reform Project at Education Law Center. “After several years of chaos and confusion about the graduation rules, this would provide a period of certainty for students, families, and districts. It would also allow the NJDOE to complete the assessment review now underway and develop new state assessments.”
“Eventually the Legislature should hold hearings with testimony from educators, parents and experts about the future of exit testing and related policy issues, such as opt-outs and over-testing,” Mr. Karp said. “But the next step should be extending the 2019 rules so all current high school students have equal access to the broadest range of graduation options.”
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