BREAKING: State School Board Overrules Murphy’s DOE and Says ‘No’ To Lowering Graduation Standards

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Today at 12:40 the New Jersey State Board of Education rejected the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education’s recommendation that students will be deemed “high school graduation-ready” even if they fail to meet expectations in 10th grade reading and Algebra 1.

The DOE had prepared a concession to allay Board members’ concerns with its trend of lowering standards. The original resolution they were asked to approve said that students must score 725 on the state graduation-qualifying tests given in 11th grade in order to qualify as “high school graduation-ready.”  (In December the DOE changed the definition of a high school diploma from “college and career-ready” to “graduation-ready.”) The new language set the cut (or passing) score at 725, which means “partially meets expectations,” with a promise to report back on results in September to see if that score needed reconsideration.

After a heated discussion moderated by President Kathy Goldenberg, Vice President Andrew Mulvihill proposed an amendment changing the cut score in the resolution to 750 from the get-go, after successfully arguing that inertia would prevent the Board from changing anything in September. The amendment to the resolution, which passed, maintains NJ’s graduation requirements (with alternatives available for those who don’t pass the test) at “meets expectations.”

Earlier in the meeting, Senator Teresa Ruiz, formerly Senate Education Committee Chair and now Senate Majority Leader, urged members to consider that a cut score of 725 in 10th grade reading and Algebra 1 is “too low” and “makes me cringe.” 

Other members had concerns as well. The Board has been asking the DOE for quite a long time (months, I’ve been told) for explanations on how staffers came to conclusions about what “proficiency” means. Member Mary Beth Berry queried, “what does 725 mean in terms of proficiency? I’m seeing it’s equivalent to ‘partially meets expectations.’ I’m really struggling.  I got an email at 9:05 today for something we asked for weeks. I’m trying to scan this email and it came at 9 today and we’ve been asking for it for a while. I can’t make an informed decision on this [and] we need to aim higher.”

Several board members tried to tease answers from Acting Assistant Commissioner Gilbert Gonzalez on how many questions students would have to get right to get a 725 but were unsuccessful. Another asked how parents would be informed of their child’s performance: “Will they be told their student isn’t ‘graduation-ready’?”

Mulvihill tried to pin Gonzalez down on what, exactly, a 725 would mean. “How many questions would you have to get right to make a 725,” he queried. “I’m not able to answer that question because we’d have to convert it,” replied Gonzalez. “Can you guess? Do you have no idea?,” Mulvihill pressed. “Can you give me some sort of idea? I would feel remiss if you told me it was 10% or 90%.” Gonzalez: “I cannot answer your question.” 

Member Ronald Butcher said Sen. Ruiz was a politician, not a psychometrician, and “we need to focus on the optics rather than the data…Ruiz says it makes us feel like we’re downgrading. I think 725 might be too low and 750 might be too high.”

Yet in the end, Mulvihill’s amendment to the resolution passed by a vote of 7-3. When taking the traditional path to a high school diploma, students will have to “meet expectations” in 10th grade reading and Algebra 1, instead of the DOE’s preferred “partially meets expectations.”

Correction: This article originally referred to a score of 750 as “partially meets expectations” but has been amended to the correct “meets expectations.”

 

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