NJ plans for the PARCC: Fix the law or scrap the grad exam?
This week’s court ruling that struck down the way New Jersey uses PARCC exams as a graduation requirement won’t mean the end of standardized tests in the state, though it could change how they are administered in high school.
“There can still be state testing,” said senior attorney Jessica Levin of the Education Law Center, which was among the groups that sued the state. “For example, for purposes of state or federal accountability under federal law. The challenge and the decision specifically deals with the regulations that govern high school graduation testing.”
State law says the graduation requirements include passage of an 11th grade test of English language arts and math, but the current rules adopted in 2016 were struck down because the exit exam covered 10th grade language arts and Algebra I at any grade level.
“And the court has emphasized its clear meaning, which is a single test of English language arts and mathematics in the 11th grade,” Levin said.
Gregg Edwards, executive director of We Raise New Jersey, said the current rules are “perfectly defensible, it’s just that they’re not consistent with the statute.” The solution could be to change the state law to reflect the subjects that students at different grade levels these days.
“If Algebra I proficiency is required, then it’s only fair to the student that you test him or her as close as possible to when they finish Algebra I,” Edwards said. “And for a lot of kids, that could be as early as I think for some as the eighth grade and ninth.”
“Having an assessment regimen that follows closely or adheres only to an 11th grade assessment is probably not a good idea anymore,” Edwards said.
Levin said the state could simply adhere to the current law, or the Legislature could temporarily suspend the exit testing requirement while the Murphy administration and lawmakers develop a compliant regulatory scheme.
“In the longer term, and this would be Education Law Center’s preference, the Legislature could also eliminate the graduation testing requirement altogether,” Levin said. “And many states have done that in recent years. New Jersey is now in a small minority of states who have a graduation exit test requirement.”
New Jersey is making a slow move toward replacing the PARCC. Just two states currently use that assessment – and the new governor of the other state, New Mexico, issued an executive order on Thursday ending its use there.
Some form of assessments are required by the federal government. Edwards said that without them, the state wouldn’t be eligible to receive federal education funding.
“The court ruling affects only the high school graduation exit exam requirement. So the statewide assessments that are used for other purposes, for assessing student academic progress outside of the high school exit exam, are left unaffected,” Edwards said.
The Department of Education has not yet said if it will appeal Monday’s ruling to the Supreme Court. It has a few weeks to decide, as the appeals court delayed the effective date of its ruling until Jan. 30.
“I do think that an administration should be looking to get a little more breathing space on the implementation of whatever the new thing is,” Edwards said.
Even if the Legislature acted quickly on a bill that Gov. Phil Murphy would agree to sign, there isn’t much time to implement it for this year, Edwards said. The school year is about 40 percent completed.
“The court I think stupidly or irrationally imposed this change for the current academic year,” Edwards said. “And I just don’t know how you can expect the department and school districts to deal with a decision like that so quickly.”