By Brenda Flanagan
“Everyone was confused,” said Linda Reid.
Reid was worried about her 15-year-old grandson, a high school student in Paterson who didn’t want to take the PARCC tests. She claims he got bullied into it.
“He said he was told he had to take the test or he wouldn’t graduate. I thought it was unfair that the state would change graduation requirements in midstream, and not notify parents ahead of time or let the kids know what they needed to do. That’s when I got angry and I contacted Education Law Center,” she said.
“The state imposed new graduation requirements on students, including students in the Class of 2016, without going through the legally required process to do so,” said Jessica Levin, attorney for the Education Law Center.
The Education Law Center sued New Jersey’s Department of Education, which settled the case last week. Bottom line: passing the PARCC test is no longer required for high school graduation. For the Class of 2016, 10,000 high school seniors who have no other standardized test scores to submit — like SATs or ACTs — will have to file portfolios of their schoolwork for review to get a diploma.
“Students can use either prior graded classwork from their high school courses or they can use answers to tasks set by the district. For the 10,000 or more students who are still in limbo, the settlement now provides extra protection as they go through the portfolio review process,” Levin said.
Individual districts must review every student portfolio and that can take a couple days each. Students can appeal to the state. The labor-intensive task will stress state-run districts like Paterson, where 600 seniors will probably file portfolios. The settlement sets a Sept. 1 deadline.
“It’s going to take a lot of work and unfortunately that work is going to cost money and staff throughout the day or throughout the summer to make sure these children graduate,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly.
The state DOE said it was pleased with the settlement, and noted, “Regulations that are necessary to establish PARCC as the graduation requirement have already been proposed to the State Board of Education and will be formally adopted in late summer as a final step.”
But the co-chair of New Jersey’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools says after this mess, it’s time for a total overhaul.
“I’d like for the Joint Committee to take a look at testing statewide from grades 3 through 12 — how many tests are necessary, how many assessments are really necessary, which are the vetted ones — and if we need an exit exam for graduation here in New Jersey. Not all states do that,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
While they wait for their portfolios to be evaluated, students will be allowed to march with the other seniors in graduation exercises. They still won’t know if they’re actually going to get a diploma.