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February 22, 2018

Recently released data from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) shows that in 2017 over 60,000 high school seniors earned their diplomas by using “transitional” testing options that will not be available to the current freshman class or students entering high school after them.

The “graduation pathway” data provides stark evidence of how many students may be at risk of not graduating as new testing requirements adopted by the Christie Administration are phased in and alternative options are eliminated. The data was released last week in response to an Open Public Records request from Education Law Center.

Under the current regulations, students in the class of 2021 must pass the PARCC ELA10 (English Language Arts) and Algebra I exams to graduate. After three years of PARCC testing, passing rates on those exams are 46% and 42%, respectively. The only remaining option for students who do not pass PARCC would be the NJDOE’s portfolio appeals process.

In 2017, only about 27% of graduating seniors earned their diplomas by passing a PARCC math and ELA test. The overwhelming majority, about 62%, used some combination of transitional options, including substitute tests like the SAT or ACT that the NJDOE is eliminating for the class of 2021. [See charts below.]

Governor Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to end both PARCC and the use of “exit exams” as a graduation requirement. He repeated his plans to replace PARCC last month while introducing former Asbury Park Superintendent Dr. Lamont Repollet as the new Education Commissioner. New Jersey’s current PARCC contract expires in June.

If the use of PARCC ends, New Jersey will need to adopt new tests. Federal law requires states to test students annually in math and English language arts in grades 3-8 and once in high school. But the law does not mandate “exit testing” for high school diplomas, which many states have eliminated.

There is also a legal challenge to the graduation rules pending in New Jersey’s Appellate Division. The lawsuit filed by ELC and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey on behalf of parent and civil rights organizations argues that the Christie era rules violate state law in multiple ways and will have a disparate impact on students of color and English language learners.

In the final months of the Christie Administration, the State Board of Education moved to renew the Standards and Assessment regulations that include the PARCC graduation requirements. The Board will hear public testimony on that proposal on March 7.

The pathway data offers a sharp contrast to the state’s improving graduation rate, which the NJDOE highlighted last week in a press release. It hailed “new data showing the high school graduation rate has grown to 90.5 percent in 2017, marking the sixth consecutive year with an increase in the graduation rate.” Overall graduation rates improved, and gaps closed for all student subgroups. New Jersey’s high school graduation rate remains the second highest in the nation.

This progress could be sharply reversed if the current rules are not changed.  

“The implications of the data are clear,” said Stan Karp, Director of ELC’s Secondary Reform Project. “The new administration needs to revise the state’s testing and graduation policies sooner rather than later to keep our schools headed in the right direction.”


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Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24