TRENTON — The fate of the test formerly known as PARCC remains up in the air as a vote in a state Senate committee to amend graduation requirements related to standardized tests was delayed Monday.
This spring and next fall, local school districts will still be giving the test, recently renamed the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, but the question remains whether the tests can be used as a requirement for high school graduation, which the courts ruled was contrary to existing state law. If the new bill is passed, the court’s opinion would be moot.
The bill, introduced last week by Senate Education Chairwoman M. Teresa Ruiz, would amend state law to allow for more than one standardized assessment to be used as a requirement for high school graduation and eliminates a requirement that the test be administered in 11th grade. It also allows current seniors and juniors to use the previous graduation requirements to obtain their diplomas.
The bill was in response to a recent state appellate court ruling that invalidated the Department of Education’s 2016 changes to its graduation standards, Ruiz said during Monday’s budget and appropriations committee meeting.
In its opinion issued Dec. 31, 2018, the court said the amended standards violated state law by requiring multiple tests in different grade levels instead of one test in 11th grade.
Following the decision, state administration made a motion to the court requesting that students who had already partially or fully met the assessment requirements — those who are juniors or seniors — be exempt, according to court documents.
“The court’s invalidation of those requirements without the inclusion of a stopgap measure leaves these students, particularly the current seniors, in a state of limbo,” a brief in support of the motion reads.
A stay was issued by the court on its opinion so it can decide the motion.
A response to the state’s motion filed Wednesday by attorney Jessica Levin of the Education Law Center, representing the appellants, partially agrees with the state that there are students left in limbo by the court’s decision but chastises the government for not putting in place a contingency plan.
”Kids have relied on those regulations and taken affirmative steps to fulfill them. The DOE’s actions and inactions put these kids at risk of not being able to graduate and not being able to graduate on time,” Levin said.
The appellants ask the court to clarify that its ruling will apply to students beginning with the class of 2023. They also ask that no students be denied graduation for failure to fulfill the assessment requirement or that all students currently in high school be able to fulfill the requirements by taking any of the tests available in the regulations that applied to the class of 2019, which were the broadest.
The Senate budget and appropriations committee did not vote on Ruiz’s bill as scheduled Monday at the request of the Governor’s Office and due to the pending litigation, according to a recording of the committee meeting available on the state legislative website.
During a statement on the holding of the bill, Ruiz said the state Board of Education had over the past year agreed on a path forward with regard to state assessments following a “very passionate” conversation that involved many stakeholders.
She said the proposed bill would codify what the state board had voted on and protect students who may be affected by the court’s decision.
“Unfortunately, certain stakeholder groups like to take advantage of the opportunities that arise to use this to pummel their conversation for long-term mission changes,” Ruiz said. “There isn’t anything in this bill that pulls the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’re not changing the course of where we want to move to with curriculum and next-generation assessment exams.”
After the bill was introduced last week, David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, asked Senate President Steve Sweeney in an open letter to allow public comment on the proposed legislation.
“The bill would also change the very standard for a diploma from ‘basic skills all students must possess to function politically, economically and socially in a democratic society’ to a vague and undefined ‘college and career readiness’ standard,” Sciarra wrote.
He said the bill has far-reaching effects, putting in place “new and unclear mandates for high school graduation for the classes of 2021 and thereafter.”
New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio said the advocacy organization supports the proposed bill and indicated so at the committee hearing Monday in Trenton.
“However, we remain concerned about the gap resulting from the Appellate Division’s ruling, and feel that Sen. Ruiz’s bill would have remedied the situation,” Belluscio wrote Tuesday in an email.
New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steven Baker said the state union for educators and support staff is still reviewing the proposed bill but has concerns about its long-term effects. Baker added the court decision created a “difficult situation.”
“If that immediate issue can be resolved by the court, even temporarily, that would be a relief to those students and their families,” Baker wrote in an email.