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Turner Calls On DOE To Raise High School Graduation Ceremony Standards

Senator Disturbed by Reports that State Education Dept is Encouraging Mediocrity

TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner today sent a letter to Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Bret Schundler decrying the state’s efforts to save face by lowering the bar on high school graduation ceremony standards. Senator Turner’s letter comes amid recent news reports that state education officials have urged local school officials to allow high school seniors to march during graduation ceremonies even if they have failed the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) test required to receive a diploma.

“I questioned the Commissioner about this very matter during a Senate Education Committee hearing last month when we received the disturbing figures on the number of students who had failed the AHSA,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer). “To find out that the Department of Education is officially urging schools to let students with failing scores march for the sake of appearance and self-esteem amounts to nothing short of a state-sanctioned farce. What kind of message does this send to the students who worked hard to pass or to the underclassmen who now see that they can skate by? Most importantly, to the students who have failed the test, it says ‘we have given up on your education.’”

Senator Turner’s legislative district includes the city of Trenton where roughly 217 students had faced the prospect of not participating in graduation ceremonies as late as April. School officials have been working hard in recent weeks to help as many students as possible pass the test before graduation on June 23.

In her letter to Commissioner Schundler, Senator Turner asked the DOE to officially explain its actions and the reasoning behind it and encouraged the department to reverse its opinion. To that end, Senator Turner is also working on legislation that would officially prohibit students who have failed the AHSA from partaking in high school graduation ceremonies.

A full copy of Senator Turner’s letter is included below.

June 18, 2010

Commissioner Bret Schundler

NJ Department of Education

100 Riverview Plaza

PO Box 500

Trenton, NJ 08625-0500

Dear Commissioner Schundler:

I find it altogether disturbing that the New Jersey Department of Education would not only condone, but encourage school districts to allow high school seniors to participate in graduation ceremonies even if they have failed the Alternative High School Assessment Test required to graduate. Given the fact that this test is an alternative for those who failed to pass the HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment), it is even more disheartening that the state would perpetrate such a lie for the sake of appearance.

We cannot afford to lower the bar on education to the point where it no longer exists. This sends the absolute wrong message to struggling seniors, underclassmen, and the students who have worked hard to pass the test.

The DOE should be focusing its energies on helping students pass this critical test, not on pomp and circumstance. To that end, I respectfully request that the Department of Education reverse its opinion on this matter and encourage local school districts to help failing seniors pass the AHSA or risk not being allowed to graduate.

High school graduation ceremonies have always been a rite of passage for students to bask in well-deserved praise for their hard work and sacrifice. If we allow students to enjoy this praise undeserved then it diminishes the value of a diploma for the students who have worked hard to earn it. More importantly, it stifles aspirations and encourages mediocrity and failure. New Jersey is accustomed to better and our students deserve it.

Your attention to this matter is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Senator Shirley K. Turner

15th Legislative District

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