Court strikes down state requiring PARCC test for graduation

A state court has schooled the New Jersey Department of Education on the law and requiring students to pass the PARCC test for graduation. It’s the kind of outcome protesting parents have wanted for months.

A three-judge appellate panel of the Superior Court ruled that requiring PARCC testing at multiple grade levels violates the law to give one, 11th-grade test in English language arts and math to qualify for graduation.

The ACLU and the Education Law Center sued on behalf of several groups.

“Even before the regulations were enacted in 2016, we urged the Department of Education to withdraw these rules because they clearly violate state law. [The] ruling vindicates our position. We are ready to work with the Commissioner, the State Board of Education and the Legislature to respond to this ruling in a manner that complies with governing law and reflects sound education policy,” said Jessica Levin, a senior attorney at Education Law Center.

The court suspended the judgment for 30 days to give the state time to appeal.

Lamont Repollet, the state education commissioner, said, “Throughout this process, the guiding factor of utmost importance will continue to be what is best for the students of New Jersey. The Department aims to minimize the impacts that any future actions, as a result of this decision, will have on students and schools.”

“I think it’s a very good ruling. It’s a very thoughtful ruling. It’s appropriate,” said Julia Sass Rubin, member of Save Our Schools NJ and associate professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Save Our Schools NJ is among the PARCC opponents who welcome the decision about the test that aims to determine a student’s readiness for college. PARCC supporters say it’s had proven benefits while others dispute that.

“I think for the purposes of what we’re discussing today, as far as using PARCC as a requirement for graduation, that is a terrible idea. It is not designed for that. The New Jersey statute stipulates a basic skills test, and PARCC is clearly not a basic skills test. It just makes no sense to have this requirement for graduation,” Rubin said.

When PARCC testing began, some districts offered enticements for students to take it. Others reported high numbers of students opting not to. Threats circulated that high opt outs could lead to districts losing funding.

Then-candidate Phil Murphy campaigned on eliminating PARCC. Murphy’s administration has been phasing it out, but some lawmakers have urged the administration to slow down and consider overhauling PARCC instead of replacing it.

“What we don’t want to do is socially promote students who are not meeting the bench mark. If we move entirely away from that in the high school years, what kind of data will we be getting to our families, and to our teachers, and to our principals to ensure that there is a remediation plan that protects that child?” asked Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee in a hearing in September of last year.

“When they get to 11th and 12th grade, we understand where they are academically and districts and schools are actually remediating and providing intervention. We’re not socially promoting,” said New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet in that same hearing. “We’re just saying we’re eliminating the PARCC assessment because we have enough data.”

Rubin is among those wondering what should come next and how soon.

“Luckily, they have an easy option. Assemblywoman Jasey and Sen. Gill introduced legislation a couple years ago, which is bipartisan and ready to go, which would suspend the law that requires high school exit testing until some point in the future. It could be 3, 4, 5 years to let current high school students know what the expectations are. And by suspending it, it would clear for everybody what they need to do in order to graduate and give the state a chance to rethink this policy. Do we want to maintain this high school graduation testing? We are only one of 12 states that still requires students to take a high school graduation exam in order to graduate,” Rubin said.

The latest New Jersey scores for the controversial standardized test have been mixed — improvements in some categories, declines in others. Right now, using it for graduation just got a failing grade.