New Jersey lawmakers took a first step toward blocking the state Department of Education from requiring high-school students to pass the PARCC test in order to earn a diploma.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is currently among an array of graduation requirements, but qualifying scores on alternative exams such as the SAT or ACT are being phased out. Starting with the Class of 2021 — currently in the eighth grade — students will have to pass the PARCC’s Algebra 1 and 10th-grade English tests.

Only about half of students are doing that so far in the PARCC’s first two years of use.

“I do not believe it was ever the intent of this Legislature to make PARCC a graduation requirement,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex.

“Most states have stopped using it altogether. The decision of state Board of Ed to make PARCC a graduation requirement was, in my view, designed to thwart the opt-out movement,” Jasey said.

In the PARCC’s first year, many parents angry about the new standardized test opted to have their children not take the test. The state said districts could lose aid if too many students opted out, then backed off. Far fewer opted out in the second year.

“This is not opposing the idea of an exit exam for high school, but rather one that is fair and measures what we need to measure before students leave high school,” Jasey said.

Parents from a group called ‘Save Our Schools’ testified in large numbers Monday to the Assembly Education Committee, which advanced a resolution determining that the State Board of Education’s regulations are inconsistent with legislative intent.

If both the full Senate and Assembly pass the resolution, it would have to be rewritten by the Christie administration. If it is not changed, the Legislature can move to invalidate the rule.

“I think it’s important to recognize that this will have teeth,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex. “We’re just not voting on something that’s not going to go anywhere, that we mean what we say. We have a way of reversing this.”

Save Our Schools members said lawmakers should go further and end not just PARCC, but exit exams.

“Using PARCC as a graduation requirement would be very unfair and have tragic consequences for students living in Camden and other low-income areas,” said Sue Altman of Camden. “PARCC is just like the SAT, and it’s just like every other standardized test ever, in that it correlates directly with income. Period.”

“You can argue the merits of whether or not we need an exit exam or not. And I would argue that you don’t, and certainly federal law supports the fact that you don’t,” said Julie Borst of Allendale. “But New Jersey statute says that this should be a basic skills test. PARCC is nothing like a basic skills test.”

“Students are tasked with demonstrating minimum basic skills in reading, writing and computational skills in order to graduate from high school,” said Christina Moreira of Elizabeth, founder of Elizabeth Parents and Students Care. “Nowhere does it say in the statute that students must demonstrate college and career readiness in order to obtain a high school diploma.”

Students can still appeal to have their portfolio of work considered to meet graduation requirements, but they would first have to have taken six high school PARCC exams.

Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, was the only lawmaker not to support the resolution rebuking the regulation. He voted to abstain, rather than vote no.

“Do I like PARCC? No. If I was a parent and my son or daughter was being subjected to that, I would be just as frustrated as everyone in this room, absolutely,” Auth said. “But I don’t want to abandon them, either — the students and the parents, who want their kids to get a quality education. Lord knows they’re paying enough property taxes to do that.”

“I understand that PARCC came out, it was a very awkward rollout. But to eliminate it and not have something ready to replace it with leaves a vacuum and I’m concerned about that,” said Auth.

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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