FAQ: NJ's 2019/2020 Graduation Dilemma

February 1, 2019

As of December 31, 2018, 170,000 New Jersey High school juniors and seniors have no clear path to graduate from high school. This unforeseen event came when an Appellate Court ruled the current path to graduation was out of compliance with the state’s graduation requirement law. The law declares that to graduate high school in New Jersey, students must pass a high school proficiency exam in 11th grade. For the past several years high school students needed to pass two assessments, PARCC Algebra 1 and ELA 10, to graduate.

B4K has prepared this FAQ to provide you with relevant information to help you understand the current issue facing high school students.  Feel free to share with others.

Q: What’s the problem?

Since 1979, New Jersey has a state law that requires students to take one high school proficiency test in 11th grade to earn their diploma. The court stated the state’s current requirement, ELA10 taken in 10th grade and Algebra 1 taken whenever they finished the course (7th - 11th grade), was out of compliance with the law. The court ruling does not effect the necessary coursework and credit requirements required to graduate.

Q: Why does it matter to high school students?

Despite no fault of their own, the classes of 2019 and 2020 have no clear path to graduation. The court has in essence changed the ground rules for them to graduate. Our students are possibly being punished for something out of their control.

This issue does not only affect two grades. For those incoming classes beyond juniors and seniors, we are concerned how this decision will affect their education. The law only requires one test to be given in 11th grade. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for changes that could harm their readiness for college or career after graduating. Will this future 11th grade test have the same high standards that the current assessments look for? Could negative changes affect the value of the NJ diploma? If standards are lowered, it stands to reason respect for the NJ diploma would decrease as well. That doesn’t bode well for recent high school graduates trying to survive in a world becoming more and more competitive every day.

Q: Can’t we just give them another test?

Not really. There is no 11th grade test in existence that tests both math and English. Our old assessment (HSPA) content was at a whopping 8th grade level not even touching on college and career readiness—way too outdated. The process of finding and administering another test would take too long to help current seniors.

For those grades other than juniors and seniors, a new test could be created, except it can take up to 18-24 months to generate a new assessment. Add on time for implementation- we could be looking at a few years in the future before any new test is given to students.

As you can see, we are in a bit of a dilemma.

Q: So what is the solution?

To clear any confusion for high school students, we need to alter the current law. Find a legislative fix that confirms students in the classes of 2019 and 2020 can graduate if they passed ELA 10 and Algebra 1. 

Keeping future students in mind, we should also broaden the law so it fits with the current tests we give students. For example, the legislation fix could allow students to take a high quality assessment in whatever grade they complete the courses, not be limited to just 11th grade. Not every student learns at the same pace, so flexibility at what time our students are ready for testing needs to be considered. The goal is to ensure our students have the necessary knowledge and skills to move forward into their future endeavors successfully.

Q: Is there a piece of legislation to fix the graduation law?

Yes. Senator Ruiz and Assemblywoman Lampitt have introduced legislation (S3381/A4957), which amends and broadens the current law to fit with current practices. Most importantly, it will grandfather in the 170,000 juniors and seniors so those qualified can graduate on time.

Senator Ruiz, explained at a recent committee hearing that this bill, “only does one thing; to be sure that we secure the children who are currently in that paradigm, and that we eliminate chaos and confusion.” Similarly, Assemblywoman Lampitt shared, “ We believe that with this piece of legislation, we are answering the court’s evaluation and determination but also looking to continue to ensure the fact that we are assessing our students when and how they need to be assessed so that we understand whether or not they’re ready to move on.”

Q: Why not just get rid of the requirement all together?

Some have suggested doing so, but we strongly discourage this approach. NJ has been a national leader in providing quality education to its K-12 students. Massachusetts, the nationally top ranked state for academic performance, has three tests students must pass to graduate. Imagine NJ trying to compete with the nation without a way to determine if a student has truly grasped college and career readiness. We fear getting rid of the requirement would force unprepared NJ students into an increasingly competitive college and career setting. A lack of a graduation requirement would also destroy the value of our states high school diploma we have worked so hard on strengthening. NJ needs to move forward, not backwards at the expense of our students.

Q: Okay, so what’s next? What can we do?

A legislative fix has been proposed. We need the legislature and the administration to act swiftly on the proposed legislation to avoid chaos and confusion for high school students and to secure the value of our diploma is more than just a piece of paper.

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