New Jersey’s graduation testing requirement has been suspended for the third time in four years. Most recently, the State Legislature, rather than the Covid-19 pandemic, blocked the test for the class of 2023.
In 2020 and 2021, New Jersey’s “exit test” requirement for a high school diploma was suspended when the pandemic caused the cancellation of state assessments. This year, however, Legislators voted overwhelmingly to stop the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) from implementing a new graduation test with a higher passing score.
The New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA) test was given to all juniors last spring after the SBOE voted to raise the passing score to 750, above the 725 level recommended by the Department’s assessment officials.
Citing the “unique and pressing challenges” of the pandemic and “a worsening of the student mental health crisis,” the Legislature responded by passing a bill that requires the NJDOE to treat the NJGPA as a “field test” and bars it from using any test as “a prerequisite for graduation for students expected to graduate as part of the class of 2023.” The bill passed 73-1 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate and was signed by Governor Phil Murphy on July 5.
This means students in the class of 2023 can earn their diplomas by satisfying all course, credit, attendance, and service requirements without passing an additional state exam or alternative test.
The Legislature’s action cleared a pathway for students in the class of 2023, but the debate over “exit testing” for graduation is far from over. The NJGPA is scheduled to be given as a graduation test again next spring to juniors in the class of 2024. A July 15 memo from the Department reaffirmed that “the graduation assessment requirements for the classes of 2024 and 2025 remain in place and are available for districts on the Graduation Assessment Requirements webpage.”
Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz has also introduced legislation, Senate Bill 50, that would require the NJDOE to begin developing yet another new graduation test for the class of 2026 and beyond. The bill passed the Senate in June but has not had a vote in the Assembly. It is likely to come up again in the fall.
Later this summer, results of the NJGPA “field test” will be released and are expected to show that tens of thousands of New Jersey students would need to take multiple re-tests of the NJGPA or substitute scores from alternative tests to satisfy the requirement.
New Jersey is in a shrinking minority of eleven states requiring separate testing for high school diplomas, down from a high of 27 states in the early 2000s.
“Exit testing for high school graduation is a failed policy that doesn’t help students who pass and hurts students who don’t,” said Stan Karp, Director of Education Law Center’s Secondary Reform Project. “More than a dozen states have repealed their exit test mandates recently. New Jersey should do the same.”