LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Entering freshmen students beginning with this year's Class of 2021 will be required to pass the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing for Algebra 1 and English 10, in order to graduate high school. 

The New Jersey Board of Education recently informed school districts throughout the state of the graduation mandate. 

At the recent board of education meeting at Passaic Valley High School on Nov. 28, a slide presentation was given by Dr. JoAnn Cardillo, superintendent; Raymond Rotella, principal; and Dr. Jared Fowler, assistant principal, in order to inform board members of the recent PARCC scores for the 2016-2017 school year and of the new graduation requirement.

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According to Fowler, it is the first year that current freshmen will be the group to be a part of the new standard.

"The state is requiring that the Algebra 1 test to be the graduation requirement for high school students, so when freshmen take this Algebra 1 PARCC test, if they pass, they're going to meet their graduation requirement," Fowler explained, adding that next year, students in their sophomore year will be required to pass the English/Language Arts 10 PARCC test." 

Fowler added that the reason for the new graduation requirement is that over the course of the last three years, PARCC was being tested by the state. He also said students in the past had varying opportunities to pass.

"Students could pass either of the tests," he explained. "You could get a certain score on your SAT's and a certain score on your ACT's,  so there were many different tests that they could take to pass. Now this is the only one. It goes back to the HSPA days when junior year, that's all you had to take to pass and graduate high school."

He also said the current freshmen were made aware of the new requirement through class meetings that were held by the administration earlier this year.

"They might pass their Algebra 1 class, but if they don't pass their PARCC test, they'd have to take the Algebra 1 class again and take refresher courses. They can retest as long as they're enrolled in the class. They would also need to go into a portfolio program for three years," he stated. "This really can impact their schedule over their remaining high school years."

Fowler said the new requirement should impact scores in a positive way.

"Personally, I think that it's going to be a big help because the students know that the test will count."

The new standard will also help regional districts in their reporting due to the fact that those districts do not have student scores from eighth students who took Algebra 1 while in their sending districts to be counted as part of an overall PARCC score.

"Scores from eighth graders who take the Algebra 1 PARCC test never actually get captured from students even before they get to the high school," he added, showing a slide on the sending districts of Little Falls, Totowa and Woodland Park's eighth grade scores which are on par with the state.

"Those are high numbers and we always want that, however of those students, none of them are taking up our Algebra 1 test as freshmen," he remarked. "Those that took Algebra 1 as eighth graders go right into geometry classes as freshmen. It's a great thing but they're not taking the Algebra 1 test and they're not taking the graduation requirement in high school because they're taking it in eighth grade. Many of those students are on a path towards taking pre-calculus and calculus."

Fowler also emphasized that many students end up going to other districts after graduating from their sending districts, which also impacts the scoring.

"Regional high schools are in a unique situation," Fowler further explained. "We're not getting our top eighth grade scorers because they're just basically skipping it and going straight into geometry. It's not the score we want and there's obviously room for improvement." 

The score received by the high school for the 2016-2017 mathematics was 15 percent in comparison to the state percentage of 42.

"If you would've included the eighth grade scores, that number would have been in the 30s," he noted. "The 15 percent does not capture the honors cohort from the sending districts who have taken the test in eighth grade."

Some of the responses by the high school to the Algebra 1 challenges is to restructure the staffing of math teachers who teach Algebra 1, create a teacher developed standardized assessments across the math curriculum, and lead professional development for Algebra 1 teachers on a regular basis. 

Also in the works is a four-week before school/after school boot camp for students who are at risk leading into the 2018 PARCC tests.

Cardillo added that much work needs to be done at the high school.

"When you look at the different levels this is our number, but when you identify kids, we would really be exceeding the state," she said. "So there is a group of students, tn this percentile for lack of a better word, stuck. What are the skills and what do they need? We need to bring them in and start giving them individualized attention." 

According to Cardillo, the Linkit program is another response being used by the high school, which identifies specific students' targeting skills in order to offer skill specific tutoring. The data is used to review and analyze information in order to see where students are for both PARCC mathematics and English scores.

The English language arts testing taken by last year's sophomores scored better for the high school, with 42 percent in comparison with the state percentage of 46.

Students of the Month

Students of the month in the field of science were honored at the meeting. They were Raima Islam, Thien Dinh-Do, Razan Allabadi and Giovanni Giovatto.