Tomorrow Morning the NJ Assembly Education Committee Should Vote For Students and Against This Bill

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Tomorrow morning, Thursday March 16th, at 10 am, the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee will consider Assemblyman Ralph Caputo’s bill, A4639, which would eliminate the high school graduation-qualifying test.

I’ve written previously on everything wrong with this bill which, if the Assembly and Senate pass it and Gov. Phil Murphy signs it, would empower each of our 600 school districts to set its own qualifications for a high school diploma.

Each local board of education, whose members circulate like a game of musical chairs, will reach consensus on what a high school diploma signifies from its own district. Let’s say a board says, “no one gets a high school diploma without passing BC Calculus.” Go for it! Another says, “eh, reading at a 6th grade level works for me.” Great! Another says, “we don’t need no damn standards, we’re going to go by grades instead” and that’s fine too.

In addition, if the Legislature passes the bill and Gov. Murphy signs it, we would throw away any opportunity to gauge the overall effectiveness of our statewide school system.

Look, it’s easy to hate tests, especially the test Caputo wants to eliminate, the NJGPA.  But multiple states require a high school exit exam, particularly if they want their diplomas to mean anything. For instance, in Massachusetts, considered to have the best school system in the country, students must earn a passing score on the grade 10 MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests to receive a high school diploma.

There’s a better way to do this in New Jersey than abandoning the ship (especially as Gov. Murphy’s Department of Education lowers standards in the pursuit of a statewide 64 Floor). Why not get rid of the NJGPA that students must take in 11th grade to earn a diploma and replace it with end-of-course exams? Students completing 10th grade English Language Arts take a standardized test and students completing Algebra 1 take a standardized test, both aligned with New Jersey’s approved standards. If they pass the assessments they’re golden. If they don’t, they can take it again or use an alternative. This would preserve expectations that our high school diplomas mean something while enabling the state, as well as parents and school districts, to gauge the quality of their teaching and learning in comparison to other schools.

The alternative? Six hundred standards for diplomas that will most negatively impact students of color and those from low-income homes.

That is the opposite of equity. I hope tomorrow morning the Assembly Education Committee does what’s right for New Jersey students, families, and school districts.

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