TRENTON — Graduation rules in place for the current senior and junior classes will be extended to all current high school students, under an agreement consented to by the Department of Education and approved by an appellate court.

The pathways to graduate high school were unclear after a December ruling invalidating the structure the DOE approved in 2016 because the way the state administered its standardized tests – then called PARCC, now the SLA – didn’t comply with state law.

In February, the state agreed to reinstate the old rules for the current seniors and also apply them to juniors, rather than start phasing out alternatives to the standard exit exam, as had been planned. This week, the state agreed to apply the same rules to current freshman and sophomores.

“This gives students the most options in order to satisfy the requirement and also gives the ninth graders and 10th graders the same kind of protections that the 11th and 12th graders have,” said Stan Karp, director of the Education Law Center’s Secondary Reform Project.

Students can meet the graduation requirement by passing the state’s math and English exams. But a passing score on alternate standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT also count. Students also may qualify for graduation using a portfolio of their work, which was always to remain an option.

“We thought in the wake of the court decision, it was important to maintain those options for all the current high school students, and that’s what this agreement does,” Karp said.

The next unresolved question is what to do about the current eighth graders, the Class of 2023, which enters high school this September. Lawmakers and the Murphy administration haven’t yet proposed a path forward, and a resolution isn’t likely to be in place before next school year.

“The regulations do state that when students enter high school, they should be given a clear copy of what the requirements are to graduate. And in this situation, they can’t be given that,” Karp said.

The agreement was negotiated by the Education Law Center and ACLU of New Jersey on behalf of several civil rights and parent advocacy groups, including the Latino Action Network, Latino Coalition of NJ, Paterson Education Fund, and NAACP NJ State Conference, that successfully challenged the high school graduation testing requirements.

The Department of Education said that for the Class of 2023 and beyond, it “is committed to providing fair notice to students and educators and will continue to collaborate with stakeholders to transition to the next generation of statewide assessments.”

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