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State education department reneging on graduation assessment compromise

Senator M. Teresa Ruiz | October 1, 2019 | Asbury Park Press |


On Wednesday, I will be asking for the state Board of Education’s continued partnership in moving forward with the graduation assessment compromise that was struck almost exactly one year ago.

The Department of Education has moved away from this compromise, due to a court ruling that the administration of the test in 10th grade did not meet statutory requirements.  However, the proposal the department is asking for approval on Wednsday has just been released to the public and is directly contrary to the department’s own messaging from last year that 11th grade was too late to test and remediate students.  We must not throw thoughtful compromise and consideration of what is best for students out the window.

For years, we have been using a graduation assessment that does not satisfy the statutory requirements of a comprehensive 11th grade test. In fact, this test currently does not exist. After a recent court case determined that the graduation assessment New Jersey was using did not meet the statutory requirements, the Department of Education was faced with a decision on what the new graduation requirements should be.

Now, almost 10 months after the court’s ruling, the department is asking the state Board of Education to approve a regulatory proposal that has not even been released to the public or stakeholders for review and public comment.

What the public and I have seen is lacking critical details:  What standards will the new graduation assessment cover?  Will students be tested on and have to remember content they may have learned two years prior? Will they be relearning the content they may have lost over the summer? It is unacceptable that these decisions are being made with scant details being shared with the public.

Recent reports have ranked New Jersey as number one in education in the country, but we also know that our achievement gap is not closing fast enough. As legislators, we rely on data to show where we are achieving and where resources need to be focused.

The changes the administration and department are proposing would effectively eliminate two years of any meaningful data to track student progress from our high schools. No longer would we be able to determine if all of our students were achieving career and college readiness as there would be no data collected for 10th graders, and 11th grade data would be greatly compromised. The department is also again proposing to keep the menu of options that are not aligned to New Jersey standards, and which the Education Law Center argued against the use of in court.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the department’s rushed, vague assessment plan is that they have repeatedly advocated that 11th grade is too late for a graduation assessment. Time and time again, the department has said that we should be providing a graduation assessment as early as possible so there is sufficient time to allow for remediation, retesting and, if necessary, time to produce and evaluate a robust portfolio.

Eleventh grade is too late and the department agreed until the administration backed them into the corner using politics instead of policy. Certain groups have said that there were too many tests taken in high school, and many 11th graders are already overloaded with tests during this critical year.

The department’s approach is hugely irresponsible. Legislation is pending that would give the department enough flexibility and time to create a graduation assessment that is given at the appropriate time, provide for the appropriate alternative pathways and allow new and innovative ways for our students to demonstrate they are prepared for college or career.

This was a plan all parties agreed to until politics reared its ugly head, and now our students may be worse without it. I ask again that the administration support the path that gives the greatest flexibility to their department to do the best by our students.


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