The NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) is keeping complete statewide test results under wraps, but partial reports released to school districts show that just 39% of students who took the first ever administration of the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency
Assessment (NJGPA) last March passed the English Language Arts section, and just 50% passed the Math section. The low passing rates are a direct result of the State Board’s last-minute decision to raise the passing score on the new exam and reject a lower benchmark recommended by both the test vendor and the NJDOE’s own assessment officials.
Only one thing is preventing a graduation crisis for this year’s senior class: legislators responded to the State Board’s action by suspending the exit exam requirement for the class of 2023 and directing the NJDOE to use the new exam as a “field test” only. Citing the “unique and pressing challenges” of the pandemic and “a worsening of the student mental health crisis,” Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Senator Shirley Turner introduced legislation that barred the NJDOE from using any test as “a prerequisite for graduation for students expected to graduate as part of the class of 2023.” The legislation passed 73-1 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate and was signed by Governor Phil Murphy on July 5.
But the measure only covered the class of 2023. The NJGPA is scheduled to be given this March again as a graduation requirement for the class of 2024. Similar NJGPA results could leave more than 60,000 students scrambling for alternative ways to satisfy the state’s “exit testing” requirement to receive a diploma.
The State Board promised to review the NJGPA results publicly and reconsider the passing, or “cut,” score. So far, that has not happened. Last February, just a month before the first administration of the new test, the Board set the passing score at 750, despite the recommended lower level of 725. The Board also added the following paragraph to its standard-setting resolution:
“Whereas, the Department will present to the State Board, by the September meeting of 2022, an analysis from the first administration of the NJGPA test for the board’s review of the herein approved cut score. Following the said review, the Department will recommend to either maintaining or modifying said cut score.”
But the NJDOE did not present the required NJGPA analysis at the September, October, or November State Board meetings. As of this writing minimal information has been released about the new exam. An OPRA request submitted by Education Law Center seeking release of the Department’s Technical Advisory Committee report and other items used in development of the test was denied. The NJDOE also denied an OPRA request for the statewide test results.
Typically, implementation of a new test, especially one carrying high stakes for graduation, involves multiple years of field testing and public release of test data before a cut score is set. As the NJDOE explained to a Board member, “In general, three years of data are required to establish a trend. For the purposes of the standard validation process and establishing the cut score, typically live data from the administration is used to set the starting point.” The passing score adopted by the Board was not based on any data or test results.
A September memo states, “the NJDOE plans to release statewide assessment results in late winter 2022 publicly.” That timeline leaves little room to revise the cut score before the NJGPA is given in March to current juniors.
The higher cut score likely reduced passing rates by 15-20% on each section of the NJGPA. At a minimum, the State Board needs to return to the lower 725 score, which, in part, reflected the fact the NJGPA tests content from courses most students completed one or more years ago.
Even if the Board revises the cut score, tens of thousands of students in the class of 2024 will need alternative assessments to satisfy the graduation test requirement. But the State Board has also failed to adopt new cut scores for nearly two dozen substitute assessments.
“At a minimum, the State Board needs to revise the NJGPA cut score and re-adopt the previous cut scores for the alternative assessments so students in the class of 2024 know what they need to do to graduate,” said Stan Karp, Director, ELC Secondary Reform Project. “But an even better option would be for the Legislature to step in again, acknowledging the enormous amount of stress high school students have been under the past three years, and remove the high stakes for graduation from the NJGPA.”
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Senator Shirley Turner have introduced legislation, (A4639/S3308) that would end exit testing for graduation, as most states have done in recent years. It’s well past time for New Jersey to do the same.