A last minute change to an assessment proposal pending before the NJ State Board of Education (State Board) could mean that students who opt out of New Jersey’s high school graduation test would not be able to graduate. The proposal, which is on the State Board agenda for tomorrow’s April 7 meeting, would affect current sophomores (class of 2023) and classes coming after them.
In a surprise move, the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) released a new version of graduation assessment regulations on Monday, two days before the State Board is due to vote on the proposal. The new regulations require students to take the state test before using either alternative tests or the portfolio option to meet the graduation requirement.
Moreover, the NJDOE declared this a “non-substantial” change that was made “to clarify that students must take the State graduation proficiency test before accessing the corresponding substitute competency test and/or the portfolio appeals process.” A “non-substantial” change does not require public comment.
New Jersey is one of the few states where students must pass a state proficiency test to receive a high school diploma. Although suspended for the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the law mandating an 11th-grade graduation test remains on the books.
The proposed rule fast-tracked by the State Board would authorize the NJDOE to create a new 11th-grade test that students would have to pass to earn a diploma. Students who don’t pass the state test would be able to use alternative tests or a portfolio to satisfy the requirement, but only if they took the state test first. Students who opted out of the state test would not be able to graduate.
The State Board has struggled to adopt new assessment regulations since the NJ Appellate Division ruled on December 31, 2018, that the previous regulations, based on the controversial and unpopular PARCC tests, violated the state statute. A new set of regulations was proposed in the fall of 2019, but never adopted. The 2019 proposed regulations required students to take the state test before they could use other tests to satisfy the graduation requirement. But there were no restrictions on accessing the portfolio, an alternative that is specifically authorized by the state graduation statute.
In an April 6 letter to Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan and State Board President Kathy Goldenberg, Education Law Center objected to the NJDOE making the change without providing the opportunity for public comment.
The ELC letter states that the “last-minute addition of a sitting requirement to access the portfolio is a significant change that will affect thousands of students…a regulation that restricts or narrows student access to the alternative assessment, such as the one proposed in the April 7, 2021 version of proposed amendments to N.J.A.C. 6A:8-5.1(a)(6)…[should] follow proper procedures for public notice and comment.”
Stan Karp, Director of ELC’s Secondary Reform Project, added “this is a significant change that will affect thousands of students, especially English learners, who disproportionately rely on the portfolio to satisfy state graduation requirements. It’s disappointing that Governor Murphy, who campaigned on a promise to eliminate high stakes graduation testing, continues to allow the State Board to make a mess of New Jersey’s graduation rules and further restrict the options available to parents and our most vulnerable students.
“It’s time for the Legislature to repeal the graduation statute and end high-stakes testing for diplomas,” said Mr. Karp.
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