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NJ Graduation Test Update

November 11, 2013

While NJDOE continues to be slow clarifying graduation policies during the transition to new “common core” state tests beginning in 2015, Department officials have restated that students currently in grades 8, 9 & 10 will not have to pass new PARCC exams to graduate.

 Beginning in spring 2015, high school students will be required to take six new PARCC tests: Language Art tests in grades 9, 10 & 11, and math tests for Geometry, Algebra I and Algebra II.  Each exam has multiple parts. The tests will be given to all students starting in 2015. But it will be at least several years before they can be used for high stakes graduation decisions.

 During this period, scores would be reported on student transcripts and school performance reports, but there would not be a passing score required for graduation. The state’s current graduation tests, the HSPA and the AHSA, will disappear after the class of 2015 (current juniors) graduates.

 Though even a temporary suspension of graduation exit testing would be a welcome step, many issues remain:

1. The mandated, computer-based PARCC exams will represent a huge increase in high school testing.

2. In addition to the six PARCC exams, the Governor’s Task Force on College and Career Readiness has recommended creating additional state exams in subjects not tested by PARCC, like science and social studies. A yet-to-be determined number of PARCC tests and other exams would eventually become mandatory for graduation.                  

3. The Department needs State Board and legislative approval for its proposals, which have not been formalized or put into regulation. NJ’s current graduation statute requires an 11th-grade test in language arts and math that sets “a minimum requirement for high school graduation.” It also requires that any senior who has not passed the graduation test “shall be eligible for a comprehensive assessment of said proficiencies utilizing techniques and instruments other than standardized tests.” Neither the PARCC tests nor the proposed end of course exams meet the requirements of the existing statute. 


New state high school tests to be phased in
Diane D’Amico, Atlantic City Press

“Students currently in grades eight, nine and 10 will not be required to pass new high school tests to graduate during their phase-in period, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf confirmed at the NJEA convention Friday….The graduation issue is a bit more complicated since state graduation requirements now include passing a state test. Cerf said he believes the issue will be worked out with the state Board of Education and state Legislature if necessary before testing begins….He and Assistant Commisioner Bari Erlichson said the testing schedule is based on the 2012 recommendations from the state Task Force on College and Career Readiness. Erlichson said they will monitor the test results as they begin to determine if the phase-in period should be extended.”



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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