New Jersey schools cannot require high school students to take the controversial PARCC exams in order to graduate, a state appellate court panel ruled Monday.

The court decision — which provides the state Department of Education a month to appeal to the state Supreme Court — says the department’s regulations governing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams are in violation of laws passed by the Legislature.

It's still too soon to know what will come of PARCC. The court ruling only invalidates its use as a graduation requirement, not as a tool for evaluating student or school performance.

Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned against PARCC but his administration has only scaled it back and defended the current regulations in the lawsuit filed by opponents as legislative efforts to nix PARCC fizzled.

A Department of Education spokesman said Monday that officials were "reviewing options and assessing next steps" and promised to communicate information "as soon as possible in order to minimize impacts on students on track to graduate."

“Throughout this process, the guiding factor of utmost importance will continue to be what is best for the students of New Jersey,” Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet said Monday in a prepared statement. “The Department aims to minimize the impacts that any future actions, as a result of this decision, will have on students and schools.”

In September, the administration reduced the significance that test results would have on teacher evaluations. State education officials also were seeking to reduce the number of PARCC tests required for high current school students.

The court decision on New Year’ Eve may mean that the state will have to retool its testing plans altogether. The three-judge panel said the PARCC regulations violate state law requiring that a graduation test be administered in 11th grade. The PARCC regulations, on the other hand, require a language arts test in 10th grade and an Algebra I test in any year.

The state law requires a single graduation test for 11th grade students, but the PARCC regulations require multiple end-of-course exams.

The judges also found that the PARCC regulations do not allow students to retake the exams or provide non-standardized-testing alternatives in the way the law requires.

PARCC has been championed by certain lawmakers and education advocates as a way to hold teachers and schools accountable. But it has been opposed by the teachers unions, advocates for disadvantaged students and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“The court struck down a graduation testing regime that was unfair to students and their families,” ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero said Monday. “We look forward to working with the State on new regulations that will comply with the law and remove barriers that disproportionately burdened poor students and English language learners.”

Although the lawsuit filed Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, the Paterson Education Fund, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the Education Law Center claimed that PARCC discriminated against poor and minority students because of its costs, the judges did not address that controversy, focusing instead on how the regulations violated the Proficiency Standards and Assessments Act enacted in 1979 and amended in 1988.

The act requires that a graduation test be given to all 11th grade students and to any 11th grade and 12th grade student who had previously failed it. Seniors who failed the test but otherwise met all credit and attendance requirements could graduate after completing an alternative assessment that was not a standardized test.

Under the regulations implemented by the Christie administration, students in the 2020 graduating class would have to take end-of-course PARCC exams for all their courses with alternative options for students who failed the 10th grade language test and the Algebra I test.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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