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PARCC Tests & High School Graduation

October 30, 2013

What will new PARCC exams mean for NJ high school graduation?

Recent statements by NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf have focused attention on how new PARCC exams aligned with the Common Core State Standards will affect high school graduation requirements. Cerf’s comments raised the possibility that NJ may end high stakes testing for diplomas for an extended period or even permanently.

On September 19, Cerf included the following slide (#24) in a presentation to NJ Superintendents:

What does this [new PARCC tests] mean for graduation requirements? 

The College and Career Ready Task Force (2012) outlined some basic guidelines for this transition, including:

For the initial years of PARCC testing, any student currently in high school will not be required to ‘pass’ the assessments as a requirement for graduation 

We will undertake a long and thoughtful process to phase in these new assessments as graduation requirements


On October 22, in a presentation to the NJ School Boards Association, the Commissioner again addressed the issue. According to the Atlantic City Press Cerf told Board members:

New state tests will begin in the 2014-15 school year. Students will be tested in language arts and math in grades 3 through 8, and high school students will take end-of-course exams in Algebra I and II and Geometry, plus English in grades 9, 10 and 11. Students currently in grades 7 through 11 who will take the new tests in high school will not have to pass them as a graduation requirement during the trial period.         

School board members in attendance confirmed the accuracy of these reports. Some superintendents have begun to publicly announce that there will be no required graduation test for current freshmen and sophomores.

If adopted by NJDOE and endorsed by the State Board of Education and the Legislature, such a shift would be a positive step away from high stakes exit testing. Secondary schools would still face the daunting prospect of implementing six new PARCC exams, each with two parts. But separating the test scores from diplomas would limit the negative impact on graduation and dropout rates.

Although NJ education code requires every district to provide “each student entering high school and his or her parents or legal guardians with a copy of the district board of education’s requirements for a State-endorsed diploma,” the Department has been slow to release its plans. As a result, more than 200,000 current ninth and tenth graders and their families haven’t received reliable information about what they must do to graduate, and virtually every district in the state is in violation of this regulation.



In April 2012, the Governor’s “College and Career Readiness Task Force” released a report with multiple recommendations about high school testing and graduation, including endorsing a multi-year transition during which the PARCC exams would not count for graduation. The Task Force also recommended creating end-of-course exams in science, social studies and other subjects for eventual use as graduation tests. These subject tests would be in addition to the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests in Math and Language Arts.

The Christie Administration endorsed the report, but was vague about implementation, saying only, “The Department of Education will work to identify both the number of end-of-course assessments required for graduation and the passing scores for each assessment over several years of administration.” Since none of the proposed new tests, including PARCC, have yet been finalized or field tested, it would be at least several years before the Department could use any of them as graduation tests.

As NJDOE’s Director of Assessment has previously explained, “When an assessment becomes a graduation requirement, legally we have to give due notice to students and the state needs to collect ‘curricular validity’ [ie, evidence that the material tested has been taught]….As a rule of thumb, the state needs to send out due notice to the districts regarding the graduation requirement and give them a three year period to adjust.” 

In September 2012, NJDOE released a brief memo announcing the phase out of existing graduation exams, the HSPA and AHSA, after the class of 2015 (current juniors) graduates. There was no mention of new end-of-course exams or graduation requirements. 

Any new graduation requirements will also need approval by the State Board of Education and the legislature. An existing state statute (18C-7C-6) requires both an 11th grade graduation test and a non-standardized alternative assessment that does not match the format of the PARCC exams. The legislature could modify or repeal that statute, but that hasn’t happened.


More info:

 What Will Common Core Exams Mean For NJ Graduation Policies? More than 200,000 freshmen and sophomores will enter New Jersey’s public high schools this fall, and they all have one thing in common: none of them knows what they have to do to graduate.

Transition To New Tests Provides Opening For Better Assessment PolicieWith more than 100,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 out of school and out of work, the last thing NJ needs are fewer high school graduates and more dropouts. To avoid that possibility, NJ will need new assessment policies when current high school tests are replaced by new Common Core exams in the spring of 2015.


NJ Needs Multiple Pathways To High School Graduation The goal of “college readiness for all,” like “leaving no child behind” has broad appeal. But NJ cannot test its way to either. The proper role for educational standards and assessments is to help identify the programs and supports students need to succeed, not to erect barriers to access and opportunity or to create new categories of failure. NJ’s high school graduation policies, including multiple pathways, should continue to make expanded opportunity the top priority.



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