TRENTON —The State Board of Education had to put off a planned initial vote Wednesday on Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed changes to standardized PARCC exams that would give students more alternatives to qualify for high-school graduation.

Board members indicated a willingness to consider making changes but had a lot of questions. Following a closed-door meeting, Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet announced at the start of the public meeting that there wouldn’t be a vote.

“We are not changing standards. We are not changing high-quality assessments. We understand that. We are not even changing graduation requirements,” Repollet said.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said the Department of Education should work collaboratively with interested groups to make changes steeped in facts and data, not politics.

“I know we’re in a government building but I want to start my remarks just by saying amen on the slowing down of the discussion for the policy changes,” Ruiz said.

The changes, which include the potential elimination of Algebra II, geometry and some high-school language arts exams in the PARCC or whatever new standardized test might replace it, are expected to discussed again at the board’s Oct. 3 meeting.

Just 27 percent of high-school graduates in 2017 qualified by passing both the math and language-arts PARCC exams, said Assistant Commissioner Linda Eno. The state wants to keep alternatives available to students that are being phased out after the Class of 2020.

“This is a very surgical set of changes in response to a set of unintended consequences that begin with our current sophomores, and with some sense of urgency we need to clarify what our students will need to do in order to graduate from high school,” Eno said.

State Board of Education member Andrew Mulvihill said he’s open to the conversation – but that the consequences of the higher standards aren’t unintended and there shouldn’t be a way around them.

“We have to be vigilant that we set a standard that’s high and there’s not a way to go around. Because that’s happened in the past, and that’s a huge disservice to our students,” Mulvihill said. “We’re about making graduation matter. We’re not about graduating kids for the sake of graduating them.”

Board member Ronald Butcher says he agrees with most of the proposal though he is concerned about potential Algebra 2 and geometry changes.

“It’s become abundantly clear that we’re moving a little too fast because the things that I believe in, I don’t think a lot of other policymakers, citizens, parents, understand and agree with that,” Butcher said.

Board president Arcelio Aponte said he supports looking at ways to improve testing and provide multiple pathways to qualify for graduation – and that it isn’t true that the state board’s policy is reliant solely on PARCC.

“It’s misleading to suggest that we are only looking at this one assessment to determine the performance of a district or performance of students,” Aponte said.

Repollet is scheduled to testify Monday before the Senate Education Committee about the planned changes to student testing, including the use of the results in evaluating teachers.

Last year, student improvement in PARCC scores accounted for 30 percent of some teachers’ evaluations. Two weeks ago, the Murphy administration reduced that to 5 percent for this school year.

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

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