By Brenda Flanagan
When high school students opted out during New Jersey’s first round of PARCC testing — or scored too low to pass — few realized it could become a barrier to graduation. But that’s the result, says the Education Law Center’s Stan Karp.
“The worst case scenario is that thousands of students who’ve met all other requirements would not graduate in June,” he said.
Karp told the Joint Committee on Public Schools that out of 94,625 seniors in the class of 2016, 54,785 are “at risk for graduation” for failing to take — or, simply, failing — the language section, including more than 1,000 seniors each in the Newark and Paterson school districts. But few apparently realized New Jersey’s Department of Education would make passing PARCC the primary path to graduation this year, Karp says.
“Changing the rules for graduation for students who are already in their senior and junior year are unfair and changing the rules for graduation without changing the statutes, or the regulations that set those requirements is a violation of the law.
The Center and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the DOE last fall, over using PARCC results as a graduation requirement. Many families who are now finding out their kids face hurdles to graduation claim the Department of Education never properly warned them.
“They are scrambling and hoping against hope that something changes, that the department has a change of heart or there’s some relaxing of the rules,” said Susan Caldwell, the Executive Director of Save out Schools NJ.
“I have great concern that it wasn’t as transparent to them and their families as it should’ve been,” said District 26 Assemblywoman Bettylou DeCroce.
Others wondered why it was such a big surprise.
“It seems disingenuous to me that all of these people weren’t aware of this, or waited until the last minute in order to resolve an issue we knew about probably this time, last year,” said the Direct of NJ School Boards Association, Mike Vrancik.
The department declined an invitation to testify today, but said in a letter to the committee, “… there has always been a system for students to demonstrate and meet graduation requirements through an alternative assessment or pathway to graduation…” noting they can take alternative tests, like the SATs or ACTs, but those require fees; they can take a military aptitude test. Finally, districts can design a so-called “portfolio” of tasks for each, individual student. But that’s time consuming, and normally involves only a few kids per district, educators say.
This year’s numbers: “Bloomfield, 50; Collingwood, 40; Franklin, 75. And what administrators have said to us is that these numbers are far greater than last year — about three times as many students or more — who will have to go through the portfolio process,” said Assemblywoman Jasey.
Members of the committee say they plan sometime this week to meet with members of the Board of Education and hopefully the commissioner to try to find a way to solve these issues as the clock ticks down toward senior graduation.