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PARCC Compromise Averts a Crisis for High School Seniors and Juniors

But now New Jersey’s Department of Education must come up with graduation requirements for the class of 2021 and beyond

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Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has reached an agreement in the contentious battle over graduation requirements which would allow current seniors and juniors to earn their diploma using their PARCC scores.

After an appellate court decision invalidated the use of PARCC as a graduation requirement for all high school students in December, nearly 170,000 students were left without a clear pathway to graduation. The case, brought by the Education Law Center, the ACLU, and others sought to prove that PARCC — which consists of multiple exams that can be taken across several grades — does not meet the state mandate that students must pass one 11th grade assessment in order to graduate. The court agreed.

When the old PARCC requirement was invalidated, however, students and administrators were left “in limbo” as the Department of Education and legislators sought to reach an agreement or find a stop-gap measure through legislation. Late last Friday, the appellants in the court case, led by the ELC, announced an agreement with the Murphy administration that would keep the old requirements in effect for the graduating classes of 2019 and 2020.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement that safeguards the graduation rights of seniors and juniors who relied on the rules invalidated by the Court,” said Jessica Levin, ELC senior attorney. “We look forward to working collaboratively with State officials to develop appropriate graduation policies for future classes.”

Officials in the governor’s office also noted that the agreement would allow the state Department of Education to take “additional time needed to determine the best approach for testing students in the Class of 2021 and beyond.”

“Governor Murphy has long held that the era of high-stress testing must end in New Jersey and, since taking office, has set the State on a path to do just that while also protecting the needs of our state’s students,” Murphy’s deputy press secretary Alyana Alfaro said.

Details of the deal

The agreement — anticipated to be signed by the court early this week — postpones the effective date of the court’s decision invalidating the graduation testing regulations and allows all juniors and seniors to use the rules set for the class of 2019 to graduate this year and next.

Those qualifications include: Passing the state PARCC assessments in English (ELA) 10 and Algebra I; scoring high enough in any of the “menu of options” of alternative tests like the SAT, ACT, or military test, or through the portfolio-appeals process which takes into account grades, transcripts, and other classroom metrics.

For the class of 2021 and beyond, barring any additional changes, the existing statute would apply. That means the DOE will be tasked with selecting and instituting a state assessment in the 11th grade beginning next year. Those students would continue to be able to access the portfolio-appeals process, but the menu of alternative test options (SAT, ACT, military placement exam) would no longer be available.

What comes next?

Now that there’s clarity for current juniors and seniors, the state will set out to craft a “next generation” testing method that adheres to state statute for those still in high school; some of the latter students have already taken one or more PARCC exam or are set to sit for them in April. What’s more, as of this spring’s 2019 state assessment round, the PARCC tests have been renamed and shortened and will be known as the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments-ELA (NJSLA-ELA) and the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment-Mathematics (NJSLA-M). Those changes were made by the Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet prior to the court decision and remain in place without having to go through the traditional State Board of Education rulemaking process.

So, although PARCC in name will soon be defunct, the controversial test is far from dead and buried. While many states are now creating their own customized tests, the pressure to limit costs and get them in place quickly has led 11 states to draw on PARCC’s bank of questions for their new assessments. New Meridian, an assessment nonprofit (that has partnered with New Jersey), has obtained the rights to PARCC’s deep archive of prompts and is striving to make them available to states “Amazon-style” when designing their new exams. This has some advocates worried that although students will no longer be taking the PARCC exams, they may be answering the same PARCC questions in future assessments.

Murphy campaigned on a platform to eliminate PARCC completely and while the agreement between the state, the ELC and other appellants sets a clear timeline for that phase-out, some advocates say the agreement doesn’t go far enough. Federal law requires states to test students in grades 3 - 8 in math and reading and at least once in high school. However, it does not mandate use of those tests as a graduation requirement.

“New Jersey is one of only 12 states that still force students to pass a standardized test to graduate from high school, a practice rejected by the overwhelming majority of states because it provides absolutely no educational benefits and destroys children's lives by depriving them of a high school diploma,” Julie Borst, executive director of Save Our Schools NJ, said. “Exit tests are particularly destructive for children of color, low income children, children with disabilities and English Language learners.”

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