Education News in Brief

N.J. Board OKs Tougher Grad Rules

By Catherine Gewertz — March 02, 2009 1 min read

The New Jersey board of education has given initial approval to more-prescriptive graduation requirements and a revised alternative exit exam in a bid to toughen its standards for a high school diploma.

In a Feb. 18 vote, the board proposed that students be required to take Algebra 1, geometry, and a course that “builds upon” the content in those two courses. Currently, students must take three years of mathematics, but no courses are specified.

The board also proposed that students’ three required years of science include laboratory biology; a choice of chemistry, environmental science, or physics; and one more “laboratory or inquiry-based” science course. Its plan specified a four-year progression of courses in English language arts, and added a requirement that students take a half-year course in financial and entrepreneurial literacy and economics.

In addition, the board revised the way its alternative exit exam would be handled, in response to criticism that too many students have used it as a lower-threshhold route to a diploma. (“Raising Bar in N.J. Includes Closing Test Loophole,” Oct. 18, 2006.)

Students who do not pass the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA, have been able to take the Special Review Assessment, which is given in a one-on-one setting and is administered and scored by local district personnel.

The state board adopted a new name for the SRA—the Alternative High School Assessment—but did not specify how it would differ from its predecessor. Jay Doolan, the state education department’s assistant commissioner for standards and programs, said the department is proposing to have the state score the tests, using a panel of teachers it would train for the job, and to narrow the window of time in which districts receive the materials and administer the tests.

The board also authorized the development of a set of end-of-course exams that would replace the HSPA.

A 60-day public-comment period is required before the board can take final action on the proposed changes.

A version of this article appeared in the March 04, 2009 edition of Education Week