On Aug. 22, the Urban Youth Research Initiative, including teams of youth researchers from Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City, released the findings of a statewide survey on New Jersey’s new high school graduation requirements. The survey found strong support for high standards for all students, but concern about the capacity of schools and districts to deliver the standards successfully and strong opposition to using new end-of-course exams to deny diplomas to students who otherwise meet graduation requirements.

The event was the culmination of a yearlong project during which youth and adult research teams looked into the issues raised by the new graduation requirements adopted by the State Board last June. The plan requires all students to complete a set of college prep courses, including advanced math and science courses, and to take new end-of-course exams currently under development. The program was held at St. Peter’s College in Jersey where the students earned three credits for their work. [For more on the Initiative see http://www.spc.edu/pages/3081.asp]

About 75 people attended the event, including parents, educators, advocates, Deputy Education Commissioner Willa Spicer and State Board President Josephine Hernandez. Student teams from each city presented their findings and reflections on the HS redesign plan in poems, spoken word, personal stories, multimedia projects, and an excellent new video from the Abbott Leadership Institute’s Youth Media Symposium. Stan Karp of ELC summarized the policy debate that led to the project. Dr. Michelle Fine of the CUNY Graduate Center summarized the results of the statewide survey conducted by the youth researchers, emphasizing three key findings:

  • broad support for high standards for all students
  • concern about the uneven capacity of schools & districts to successfully deliver the new graduation requirements to all students
  • strong opposition to using new end-of-course exams to deny diplomas to students who otherwise meet graduation requirements

A lively discussion followed the presentations, with many speakers stressing the need to include young people in the policy debates and decision-making around secondary reform. Deputy Commissioner Spicer and Board President Hernandez invited the students to bring their research to the NJ Department of Education and continue the dialogue as implementation of the new graduation standards goes forward.

The Urban Youth Research Initiative is co-sponsored by: Abbott Leadership Institute, Education Law Center, CUNY Graduate Center, NJ Community Development Corporation, Saint Peter’s College, Project GRAD, ASPIRA. Funding support was provided by the Schumann Fund for New Jersey and by family donations in honor of Bob Ricci, a longtime community advocate in Jersey City.

The Youth Researchers Report on the Statewide Survey on the new graduation requirements is also available at the project website (lower left): http://www.spc.edu/pages/3081.asp

For additional info contact skarp@edlawcenter.org

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Sharon Krengel
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