Should High School Graduation be Contingent on Proficiency?

"I find it astonishingly unfair," she said. "We are going to have to look at how we might intervene on behalf of this year's graduating class."
That’s Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools at a hearing in Trenton yesterday, responding to Education Law Center’s Stan Karp’s argument that New Jersey was violating student rights by requiring demonstration of proficiency in language arts and math in order to earn a high school diploma.

As such, Jasey is missing the point. The problem isn’t whether that the D.O.E. requirement that students pass a diploma qualifying test is “illegal and unfair.” (We’ve had this statute in place since 1973.) The problem is that we have historically awarded diplomas based on dumbed-down tests (ASK and HSPA) and the PARCC isn’t dumbed down. So now 22,000 students, or about 35 percent of juniors tested, either opted-out or didn’t make the cut.

(Prospective graduates can also use SAT’s, ACT, Accuplacer, or the military qualifying test. If they miss the mark on those, they can file a portfolio assessment.)

Education Law Center, as well as NJEA and Save Our Schools, is arguing that Education Commissioner David Hespe didn’t properly change state statute, which currently lists HSPA, not PARCC.  But, according to NJ Spotlight, “Education Commissioner David Hespe only presented the state BOE with new regulations implementing PARCC at its January 2016 meeting and the board held a hearing on them last month.”

That’s a fair point, as is the argument that New Jersey is one of only two states in the country to require standardized testing in order to get a high school diploma. And, certainly, one can argue that new testing, accurately benchmarked to college and career-ready standards, was too much, too fast.

But shouldn’t the Joint Committee on the Public Schools be less concerned with regulatory minutiae and more concerned with why New Jersey students aren’t adequately prepared for successful adult lives? Maybe that will come up at the next meeting.

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