The Record crows today,
New Jersey continues to lead the nation in the percentage of students who graduate from high school, according to a national report for release today. The state has a graduation rate of 82.1 percent. It is one of three — Iowa and Wisconsin are the others — with rates of over 80 percent. The national average is 69.2 and Nevada and the District of Colombia fared the worst, with graduation rates of just under 50 percent, according to Diplomas Count 2009.
This claim is based on Education Week’s annual state-by-state high school graduation rate report. But it’s wrong because the statistics for New Jersey include those kids who fail our High School Proficiency Assessment three times; after that, they are eligible to take something called the “Special Review Assessment (S.R.A.).” A passing grade on the S.R.A. is 47%. Derrell Bradford of Excellent Education for Everyone cites Education Commissioner Lucille Davy in a recent column:
The state does not keep track of how many students fail to complete the SRA; in an interview Wednesday, Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy said that hardly any students fail.
In other words, a high school student in New Jersey who sticks it out through 12th grade can get a diploma regardless of academic proficiency.
No other state in America offers this “alternative route” to graduation.
So, what does that do to our graduation numbers? According to D.O.E. data, 11% of our high school juniors and seniors earn their diplomas through the S.R.A, though that number varies wildly, depending on school districts. For example, in wealthy Northern Highlands in Bergen County, only 2.3% of kids were steered towards the S.R.A. In impoverished Camden, 62.8% of kids received high school diplomas through the S.R.A. Bradford does the numbers and says that if we eliminate the number of kids who bypass the HSPA, New Jersey’s graduation rate falls to 24th in the country.
If fact, the D.O.E. is well aware of the weaknesses of the test. In 2002 it commissioned “White Paper: New Jersey Special Review Assessment,” which reviewed the history of the test and made recommendations. The original intent of the assessment, according to the report, was for use by students with disabilities; its use spread to students who were “test phobic” or had limited English proficiency. Beginning in 1991, however, N.J. administrative code was rewritten to allow all students who failed the HSPA to use the SRA.
From the D.O.E. summary:
As you will note in the paper, New Jersey remains the only state to administer a state-developed alternate assessment for students failing a graduation requirement test. Based on continued concerns and the results of our year-long study, the department included the following key recommendations in the paper: the elimination of the SRA; the creation of expanded remedial opportunities for students failing the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA); the development of an appeal procedure; and the award of a differentiated diploma for students who fail to achieve proficiency on the HSPA, but who do meet other graduation and attendance criteria.
In spite of the D.O.E- sponsored report and its unequivocal conclusion – get rid of the S.R.A. – we use it more and more. In August 2005, according to the Education Law Center (which supports keeping it with major revisions), the New Jersey State Board of Education
proposed phasing out the SRA beginning with the freshman class that entered in September 2006 for language arts and the freshman class entering in September 2007 for math. However, the State Board deferred final action until the Department of Education developed “alternative opportunities for students to demonstrate the achievement of high school graduation requirements.” Those alternatives are still pending.
It’s bad enough that so many kids can’t pass the HSPA, which Commissioner Davy has referred to as a “middle school test.” It’s even worse that so many of these kids are clustered in poor areas, which exacerbates a school system segregated by not only ethnicity and economics, but also by achievement. But does the D.O.E. have to lie about it? Number 1 in the country in graduation rates? Who are they kidding? Does the D.O.E. think we all graduated from high school using the S.R.A.?