NJ's Diploma Scam, Part II

To recap: the Education Law Center is irate because this past January the vast majority of the 10,000 high school seniors who couldn't pass the HSPA after three tries also failed the new and carefully supervised Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA).The previous alternative test, the Special Review Assessment, was impossible to fail. Therefore ELC has asked Commissioner Bret Schundler to “set aside” the test results so that the students can get high school diplomas.

While there’s no official response yet from Comm. Schundler, there is unofficial news from the NJ DOE. Michael Parent, the Principal of Dumont High School in Bergen County, heard a rumor that the NJ DOE was planning on having Gov. Christie sign an Executive Order stating that all high schools in NJ must allow every student to march in graduation regardless of whether he or she passes the AHSA. So Mr. Parent wrote a letter to Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer regarding this rumored Executive Order, which he believes “trump[s] the graduation policies of districts” and serves as an abrogation of the DOE’s stance on increased academic rigor. Here’s Dr. Spicer’s reply:
We do not know if we need an executive order but we want students who have passed all their courses, come to the remedial program regularly, come to school regularly and attended to the work of his or her classes to march in graduation. They will not receive a diploma but will be able to attend a summer program and take another test at the end of the summer. We hope that the state will be able to provide software that has proved effective in other states and we hope that those students who are willing to work with the system will be able to read, write and do math well enough to earn a NJ diploma by August. I know that you, too, hope for the best for the students. We would be happy for your help in achieving the purpose.
Okay. Fair enough. We all want our high school graduates to read, write, and do math. We all want the best for our students. Yet of the 10,000 students tested in January only 1,000, or 10%, passed the language arts section. From the Education Law Center’s press release: “In 120 school district not a single student passed the language arts portion, and in 40 district not a single student passed the math portion.” How is it possible that after a “summer program” and “software that has proven effective in other states” that every one of these students, who have walked across the graduation stage celebrating the successful completion of their high school careers, will pass the AHSA?

Does the NJ DOE plan to toss a test that accurately assesses student academic achievement (or lack thereof) and reinstate the much-abused Special Review Assessment? Just how meaningless is a New Jersey high school diploma? To what degree are we willing to perpetuate the pretense that NJ adequately educates the children in our poor, segregated school districts? We await further word from the DOE.

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