The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has settled a lawsuit concerning graduation requirements for high school students. Under the agreement with the Newark-based Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit in September 2015, students in the class of 2016 have more flexibility in fulfilling graduation testing requirements.

Students who don’t meet test-based graduation requirements by earning a certain minimum score on the PARCC exam, the SAT or the ACT, have been able to use a portfolio review process to graduate. Under the terms of the settlement, districts can accept and review portfolios from seniors until Sept. 1, and districts, rather than the NJDOE, determine if a student has met graduation proficiency standards.

School districts can also permit students who are awaiting their final portfolio review to participate in graduation ceremonies if they have met all graduation requirements except the standardized testing requirement.

The other terms of the settlement include the following: The portfolio process will be available to all students, regardless of their previous participation in testing or their performance on assessments; special education students with IEPs who need portfolios to graduate will have the same access to the process as other students; and districts can administer and review portfolios in a student’s native language.

If a district determines that a student has not satisfied the portfolio review requirement for graduation, it must provide a written explanation to the student’s parents or guardians, with notice that the materials will be sent to the NJDOE for an automatic review. That notice must also include information about the right of students to appeal the district’s decision to the education commissioner.

The NJDOE issued a guidance document to superintendents and charter school lead persons that stated that districts should make every effort by Friday, May 13 to inform parents and guardians of students who still need the portfolio review to graduate about the portfolio process. The department also reminded districts that in order to ensure processing of portfolio appeals before the end of the school year, appeals must be postmarked by May 13. Appeals after that would be reviewed in a “timely manner” but the department cannot guarantee results will be returned before the end of the school year.

The settlement notes that when the NJDOE released the new graduation standards in 2014, it did not follow the proper procedures for enacting new rules. Those procedures include review, public comment, and approval by the State Board of Education.

There are currently proposed regulations before the State Board that would set graduation requirements for future high school graduates.

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