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Opponents of Christie’s PARCC Graduation Requirements Go to Court

Advocates say requirements violate state law, argue NJ has high graduation rates because students have multiple paths to diplomas

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New Jersey Supreme Court at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton

New Jersey is once again turning to the courts to decide education policy, as advocacy groups yesterday announced a new legal challenge to the Christie administration’s latest requirements for high school graduation.

A coalition of groups said it filed a challenge in state appellate court to the administration’s latest requirements that students pass prescribed sections of the new PARCC exams to receive a diploma, starting with the class of 2021.

The challenge comes as the state Supreme Court is poised to hear a separate challenge from Gov. Chris Christie against the landmark Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings, throwing in arguments against the state’s teacher seniority laws as well.

In that case, the court is grappling whether to hear the arguments, and asked the relevant parties earlier this month to submit arguments about whether the case was appropriate to review.

But all in all, the back and forth in both cases amounts to a familiar and historical refrain for education policy in New Jersey, where the courts could have as much — if not more — influence as the executive and legislative branch.

The latest challenge is not wholly unexpected, as advocacy groups have long opposed the administration’s new rules that demand students — starting with those now in eighth grade — pass the state’s new PARCC tests for 10th grade language arts and for Algebra I to receive their diplomas.

The central premise of the legal case is that the rules run against an existing statute that allows for an 11th grade test as the arbiter of graduation, as well as alternative means if a student does not pass those tests.

The groups — led by the Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey — had already been in administrative law court challenging the process for current graduates, leading to a separate settlement last summer. But advocates also indicated a challenge would come on the new regulations on many of the same grounds.

"New Jersey has sustained one of the highest graduation rates in the country, in part because we've always had multiple ways for students to earn a high school diploma,” said Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, one of the plaintiffs. “We want to make sure students continue to have multiple opportunities to succeed."

This is just one court challenge in play to the state’s education policies, as Christie’s administration last month appealed to the state’s highest court to rehear the state’s landmark Abbott rulings.

In the appeal, it asked the court to revisit the foundation of its 40-year history of ordering the state to provide additional aid to the state’s poorest districts in what has become a national model for school equity.

In addition, the administration asked the court to overturn the state’s existing laws on teacher seniority, which demand that newest teachers be the first to be laid off, known as “last in, first out.”

The court earlier this month asked lawyers on both sides of the case to file briefs as to whether the case was even appropriate for review.

“As a threshold matter, the court has determined that it would be beneficial for the parties to address whether it is appropriate for this application to be filed with the Supreme Court in the first instance,” according to the memo filed with both parties.

The court asked for briefs to be filed by November 3rd.

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