Utilize the Political Process to Help Students

Those of us working in schools every day know things are far from normal. We see significantly increased levels of student stress and anxiety, and the debilitating emotional impact it’s having on our kids—not only in their academic work, but life in general.

As educators we need to find ways to help students in these difficult times, not add to their burdens. That’s why a red flag went up when word hit the street that the New Jersey State Board of Education was planning to re-establish a graduation test requirement this year.

Prior to the pandemic, New Jersey public high school students were required to pass a written standardized test to graduate. This requirement was suspended during the peak of the pandemic.

In early February 2022, the New Jersey Department of Education met with the State Board of Education and recommended that if the test was going to be put in place again, the passing grade should be reduced from the pre-pandemic score of 750 to a score of 725. It based its recommendation for a lower score on the well-known fact that many students lost valuable learning time during the pandemic and still are trying to catch up. Unfortunately, the State Board of Education rejected the Education Department’s recommendation and voted to keep the passing score at 750, acting as though it's business as usual. 

School leaders know that adding to student stress with high-stakes tests makes little sense now and borders on education malpractice. 

To address the issue quickly, the City Association of Supervisors and Administrators (CASA), AFSA Local 20, in Newark, reached out to New Jersey State Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo (D-28th), a champion of public education. He was already aware of the situation and immediately saw the folly in the State Board of Education’s action and introduced a bill (NJ A3196 R) to counter the State Board of Education’s graduation test requirement.

Like any good legislator, Assemblyman Caputo asked for the thoughts of the experts at CASA on the legislation. He values the union’s ideas on students and took our suggestions into consideration as he wrote the bill. 

Caputo’s final bill keeps the test but reduces the high stakes by requiring that it only be used for diagnostic purposes to enhance teaching and learning over the next year. Under the Caputo bill, a standardized test will not be used to determine whether a student can graduate.

The State Assembly Education Committee passed Caputo’s bill, informally referred to by CASA as “Danny’s Law,” in a unanimous, bipartisan vote this month. It now continues its journey through the state’s legislative process. 

The informal name “Danny” is based on a high school student representing all children who have been emotionally impacted by COVID-19 and who have struggled with learning loss, lack of contact with peers and a growing anxiety that they have missed out in their school experience.

This story shows why school leaders need to have a political program at the local, state and national levels. Whether your local has collective bargaining or not, coordinated political involvement is necessary to help make changes that help the students and communities we serve.

Ask your local union officers how you can be part of the union’s legislative action team. It’s important to utilize the political process to help our students succeed.