Midway through a long process to revamp New Jersey’s graduation testing, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration now finds itself in the peculiar position of working with the Legislature to temporarily protect a system it ultimately wants to change.

At issue is a predictable route to graduation for roughly 170,000 high school seniors and juniors, after the PARCC exams they’d been required to take were declared invalid five weeks ago by an appellate court because they are administered in ways that don’t comply with state law.

Unable to develop new rules in time to get upperclassmen out of limbo, the Senate budget committee Thursday instead advanced legislation that would adjust the law so the testing schedule is legal for the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020.

“This bill is creating a quick fix to avoid 170,000 families impact in this coming graduation cycle from having chaos inflicted upon them,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex.

“There is an absolute urgency for this bill,” said Patricia Morgan, executive director for JerseyCAN. “The court essentially eviscerated all of the graduation pathways for current juniors and seniors in high school.”

The bill advanced by a 10-0 vote, though two Middlesex Democrats voted to abstain after two parents from the county testified against the idea and said the court ruling should stand.

“This is an unnecessary step as the courts are now protecting all current high school students in the classes 2019 to 2022 by making current pathways to graduation available as of Feb. 6,” said South Brunswick school board member Lisa Rodgers. “The confusion is mind-boggling to me right now. It’s unclear what is going on.”

Freshmen and sophomores aren’t yet protected, though the courts this week asked the state Department of Education if it would grandfather those classes under the old rules, too, as suggested by the Education Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. The state has until Monday to respond.

The graduation options are supposed to get more limited beginning with the Class of 2021, under rules adopted under then-Gov. Chris Christie.

“Since freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors – all of them – have relied on the regime in place for graduation. That’s what their expectation is,” said Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach director for the Education Law Center.

“This would make sure we do no harm to any current high school student as we move to a new statewide assessment system,” said Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

“The students who are in the Classes of ’21 and ’22, this is all current high school students, have a right to know how they’re going to graduate,” said Julie Borst, director of community organizing for Save Our Schools NJ.

Borst said she would prefer that the Legislature suspend the graduation exam requirement.

Shelley Skinner, executive director of Better Education for Kids, said such an idea raises concerns.

“We are fearful that any timeout is in essence opening up the door to permanently removing graduation assessments,” Skinner said.

“We would think that any effort to try to suspend the current law is really just a stalking house, if you will, for looking for other changes,” said Gregg Edwards, executive director of We Raise New Jersey.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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