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Interactive Map: Taking the Portfolio Review Route to Graduation

So far, some 10,000 students who did not pass PARCC or an alternative test have submitted a portfolio of their work to meet graduation requirements

As high school seniors continue to receive diplomas and flip their tassels throughout New Jersey, it remains unclear as yet what effect the controversial PARCC exam will have on graduation rates.

More than 10,000 high school seniors, roughly 11 percent of those enrolled in 12th grade this year, had completed, as of June 1, a special portfolio review process in order to be able to graduate this month, according to data the Education Law Center received from the state Department of Education. This appeals process was available to students who did not pass the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or another test that could serve as the requirement for graduation.

As part of a legal settlement with the law center, the DOE is required to report information about the portfolio review process, the only alternative to testing available to students beginning this year since the state switched from the High School Proficiency Assessment to the PARCC, primarily, or other standardized tests.

So far, the DOE provided data on successful portfolio appeals for about three quarters of the districts with high schools. Its data on the number of students unable to meet the state's assessment graduation requirement, however, is spotty, with the DOE indicating that about half of districts had not responded to a survey about that. Those districts that had reported indicated that 682 seniors had been unable to fulfill the assessment requirement for graduation through June 1.

Without more information, it's hard to say much about what has been a chaotic graduation process for some seniors and their families beyond the large number of students forced to go through the portfolio process. The 10,323 reported so far in 75 percent of districts is significantly higher than the 1,400 to 1,800 appeals the department had been processing per year in the past.

"Less than half of all seniors passed PARCC, so the majority will be graduating through other means," said Stan Karp, director of the Secondary Reform Project at the ELC. "But we won't get a picture of which pathways or tests students used or the overall impact on the total number of students graduating until final data reports next fall, if then."

Last year, nearly 90 percent of students had graduated in four years. The state may not release that information until late fall or early 2017.

The ELC got involved in this year's graduation for a number of reasons, including that so many students had boycotted taking the PARCC tests and many more did not pass, meaning they would have to pass another test or portfolio review of their work in order to graduate.

In May, the ELC and the DOE reached a settlement in the case that requires the department to provide the data and allow students to submit portfolios that will count toward this year's graduation through September 1.

Students in both urban and suburban districts alike used the portfolio review process, with 56 districts submitting more than 100 portfolios for students and 100 districts submitting more than 50. The state's biggest districts, not surprisingly, had the most portfolios submitted: Paterson submitted 649, Newark submitted 581, and Jersey City submitted 429. Only Hasbrouck Heights in Bergen County reported neither any students with portfolios nor any students failing to graduate due to the assessment requirement.

According to the ELC, districts using the portfolio process incurred extra costs for staff time, additional test administrations, and afterschool and Saturday sessions devoted to preparing portfolios for review. Students who had to complete portfolios after multiple rounds of testing also faced lost instructional time, increased stress, and disrupted senior plans. In some districts, extended efforts to satisfy the new testing requirements meant students were not certified for graduation in time to qualify for summer college transition programs.

The State Board of Education is currently considering proposed regulations that would require students to pass the PARCC ELA 10 and Algebra I exams to earn a diploma beginning in 2021. Only the portfolio would remain as a graduation option for students who do not pass PARCC. Public comment on the proposal closes on July 15.

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