Op-Ed: Senate President Sweeney Must Post the PARCC Bill

Sue Altman | April 28, 2017 | Opinion
This is not the first time that education advocates have watched a key bill languish and die a slow death at the senate president’s hands

Sue Altman
Last Thursday, dozens of education advocates gathered to rally outside Senate President Steve Sweeney’s office in West Deptford to urge the senate president to post Senate Concurrent Resolution SCR-132, which would strike down the regulations making proficiency on the PARCC standardized test a graduation requirement for the classes of 2021 and beyond. The concurrent resolution has already sailed through the Assembly in a decisive 69-3 vote, but thus far, Sweeney has refused to post it for a vote by the state Senate.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time advocates have watched a popular anti-high-stakes testing bill die a slow death at the hands of the senate president. Sweeney has a history of letting PARCC bills wither on the vine, including S-2767, the “sit and stare bill,” which would have prevented districts from acting punitively toward students who refuse the test; S-2154, which would have created a task force of experts to explore alternative ways of assessing students; and S-2768, which would have frozen the use of PARCC test scores for three years, to enable this experimental test to be proven effective before it is used to evaluate our children. Due to Sweeney’s inaction, none of these bills were ever posted, and now we all sit and stare at another PARCC bill languishing before the Senate.

Against legislative intent

The concurrent resolution states that the PARCC graduation regulations are inconsistent with the intent of the legislation requiring a high school graduation test. The regulations also are being challenged in court by the Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, and the Paterson Education Fund, with the Education Law Center (ELC) and the ACLU acting as co-counsel in the case. The ELC and ACLU argue that using PARCC ELA10, a 10th-grade exam, and the PARCC algebra 1 test, which is given to a wide array of grades, as high school graduation exams, is against the law, which requires an 11th-grade test be used. This issue creates several fallout consequences, including depriving English Language Learners an extra year to develop English language proficiency before being tested. Using PARCC as a graduation requirement violates the law and harms our most vulnerable students.

Following the protest at Sweeney’s office, Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz and Sweeney issued a joint statement declaring that the PARCC graduation exit exam is indeed inconsistent with legislative intent. While advocates are delighted that, finally, the senate president and Education Committee chair are agreeing publicly with the arguments that have been expressed by experts and lawyers for months, they wonder why Sweeney still refuses to post the concurrent resolution in the New Jersey Senate. If he agrees that the graduation regulations violate the law, why not put it up for a vote?

Unlike legislation, the concurrent resolution does not require Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. Once the Legislature approves it, the New Jersey Board of Education has 30 days to revise the regulations, to make them consistent with the underlying law. The concurrent resolution does not even have to make its way through committees. It could go directly to a full vote of the state Senate, without any committee hearings. This is what Sen. Sweeney did for the Urban Hope Act of 2011, which created the renaissance charter schools in Camden.  

PARCC is on its way out in New Jersey. Sens. Sweeney and Ruiz agree that using PARCC as a graduation requirement is against New Jersey law. They have the power to solve this problem the way the system designed: through the checks and balances of the state Legislature, and it is their responsibility to do so. Advocates, educators, and parents across the state urge Sweeney to post SCR-132 for an immediate vote in the Senate.