Education Law Center: Graduation Requirements Need To Be Properly Proposed and Adopted

A lawsuit over PARCC testing greets the new school year. It aims to stop the state from using PARCC test scores for graduation. The Education Law Center‘s Jessica Levin joins NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill to discuss what this lawsuit means for current high school students.

The Education Law Center is suing on behalf of five parents due to confusion in the schools throughout the sate among students, parents and school staff about what the requirements are to get a high school diploma in New Jersey. Levin says, “the New Jersey Department of Education has stopped implementing the high school graduation exam requirements that are currently in the law, and has announced new graduation policies without propagating new regulations.”

She says this type of policy needs to be properly proposed and adopted under the New Jersey Administrative Procedure Act, which would allow for fair notice of the proposed policy and an opportunity for stake holders to comment.

“What’s at the heart of the issue is through a series of memoranda starting in the fall of last year, the Department of Education has announced new graduation policies that would impose the PARCC exams as a requirement for graduation instead of the exams that are currently in the law,” Levin said. “If students don’t pass the PARCC exams they would also have the opportunity to fulfill that requirement by taking commercial fee-based assessments, like the SAT and ACT, which obviously raises issues of access.”

The Commissioner of Education went ahead and issued these memoranda outlining the new policy, which doesn’t follow the appropriate procedure for putting in place new rules for graduation requirements, according to Levin.

“The Education Law Center alerted the Commissioner of Education in January and again in April that these policies need to be established through the appropriate procedures, and that wasn’t being done through the issuing of the memoranda. That’s why the lawsuit was ultimately brought,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed recently, and Levin says the DOE will now have the opportunity to file an answer. However, “The DOE didn’t have a formal response to those communications that were from the Education Law Center and the ACLU of New Jersey. Our hope now is that the DOE will either follow the existing laws that are on the books, or will propose new regulations and allow that opportunity for notice to students of the new requirements and an opportunity for stakeholders to comment,” Levin said.

She says what’s at stake for parents and students is the ability to receive fair notice of what requirements are to achieve a high school diploma and the opportunity for the public to comment and raise concern with the policies. Levin says that this suit isn’t about the merits of the PARCC exam or any other kind of test. “It’s about getting the new policies implemented through the correct procedures so that people have fair notice and the opportunity to give comment on them,” she said.

The memoranda that laid out the new policy were issued by the Commissioner and other officials in the DOE, according to Levin. She also says this issue is immediate — affecting those currently in high school.

“I want to be clear with a clarification because new policies, including the use of PARCC and the fee-based commercial test at the portfolio appeal option are being implemented for the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018. So this is not something that’s as far off as 2019, this is something that affects high school seniors now, and as well as juniors and sophomores who are beginning the year right now,” she said.