Advocates Want DOE to Open New Graduation Guidelines to Formal Public Comment

John Mooney | January 23, 2015 | Education
Turning requirements into regulations would help ensure that students can take advantage of all paths to a H.S. diploma

mortarboard graduation
As the Christie administration moves to new high school graduation requirements, two legal advocacy groups are pressing it to recast the relevant rules as formal regulations to, in part, make sure the public has some input.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Education Law Center yesterday released a letter they sent to the state Department of Education earlier this month to ensure that the transition period is clarified through a public process.

The administration announced this fall that as the state started with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing this spring, high school students for the next three years would not be required to pass all the sections to graduate — as required by previous high-school testing.

Instead, it set up a complex system in which students would meet graduation requirements by passing at least one section in both language arts and math or have a host of other options, including minimum scores on the SAT or other specified tests.

As a last resort, students could go through an appeals process in which the state would look at a portfolio of their work to decide if they could graduate.

The Jan. 13 letter from the ACLU and the ELC, a five-page document that reads like a legal brief but is not a formal complaint, said that the new guidelines — even if temporary — requires a formal regulatory or “rulemaking” process through the state’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Such back and forth over policy is not unusual, especially with the ELC, a leading advocacy group in the state that led the Abbott v. Burke litigation.

So far, the department had mostly explained the new requirements through a series of memos to districts.

But the groups have argued that without an explicit process written into regulation, at-risk students could potentially fall through the cracks and not be afforded their full rights.

They said in the letter that the regulatory process would also provide a chance for stakeholders and the public in general to make comments.

“Rulemaking in this instance furthers the APA’s core objective: affording stakeholders — parents, teachers, district administrators, advocates, lawmakers, and others who are directly impacted by, and concerned with, the DOE’s proposed changes in graduation policy — notice and the opportunity for input on the specific standards and criteria the DOE will employ to implement the proposed policy,” the letter read.