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On Monday the New Jersey Assembly Community Development and Affairs passed a bill that eliminates the high school graduation qualifying test currently called the NJGPA.
Why wasn’t the bill proposal vetted by the Assembly Education Committee, which would seem the more appropriate venue?
I have no idea but here’s a guess: the Assembly Education Committee knows more about K-12 education and wouldn’t have voted to pass the draft bill onto the full Assembly.
Sure, the bill is a crowd-pleaser. Boo, standardized assessments! And while it’s certainly easy to think the job of lawmakers is winning popularity contests, this bill is bad for school quality, equity, and accountability.
Think of it this way: getting rid of the requirement that students demonstrate proficiency in 10th grade reading and algebra before finishing high school is the opposite of social justice.
The best state school system in the country is Massachusetts. Guess what? Students there 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.
New Jersey wants to maintain its status as one of the top state school systems in the country, right? Eliminating a key indicator of the academic achievement for high school graduates won’t get us there.
Currently our state school system is inequitable: one of the few ways to get into a high-performing school without paying tuition (exceptions: most magnets and charters) is to buy your way into a Millburn or Princeton. Social justice tenets aside, we’re impervious to pleas for district consolidation or open enrollment. If this bill passes, there will be no data to intercede when only 3% of graduates from Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School pass the state algebra test. (They all get diplomas anyway, of course they do, but that information is important. And, while the Murphy Administration or the Newark Board of Education isn’t intervening, maybe one day we’ll have leaders who take equity seriously.)
Is NJGPA (our current iteration of a high school diploma-qualifying test) a great assessment? No, it’s the best under current rules which say students have to take the test in 11th or 12th grade even though we’re testing subjects they earned earlier. That’s unfair. Instead the State Legislature should change the law to make high school diplomas (with myriad exceptions, of course!) contingent on end-of-course exams.
How would this work? The DOE would get a vendor to create statewide tests in 10th-grade reading and algebra, just like they did for the NJGPA. Students would take those tests at the end of courses in reading and algebra. Duh. Not that hard! And, hey, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz already has a bill just like that all set and ready to go, if she could get it through the legislative bottleneck.
We shouldn’t get rid of the test. We should make the test better by ensuring that students take it at the right time, that we collect the data in order to keep district accountable, and that we find ways to ensure our students to learn basic subjects like reading and math. You want your social justice button? Vote for that.
Or just listen to JerseyCAN Director Paula White: