New Jersey has become the second state to require students to pass the PARCC exam in order to graduate from high school.
The New Jersey Board of Education voted Wednesday to begin the requirement with the class of 2021. Currently, New Jersey students must pass a test to graduate, but they can choose which one: PARCC, ACT Aspire, the ACT, PSAT or SAT; Accuplacer, or the ASVAB-AFQT (military entrance exam). They can also opt to demonstrate mastery of subject matter through a portfolio presentation.
The board’s vote means that as of 2021, only two graduation options will be available to New Jersey students: First they must try to score “proficient” on the PARCC exams in 10th grade English/language arts and Algebra I. If they can’t, they may submit a portfolio appeal.
New Jersey and New Mexico are now the only two states in the country to require students to pass PARCC, known formally as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, to earn their diplomas. Only one state, Washington, requires students to pass Smarter Balanced, the other common-core test designed with federal funding by groups of states. Ten additional states require students to pass a test to graduate, but they use other exams, as we reported in EdWeek’s survey of states’ testing requirements for 2015-16.
Requiring students to pass the PARCC or Smarter Balanced exams runs the risk of lowering graduation rates. As EdWeek’s database of 2014-15 test results shows, many states saw proficiency rates of 40 percent to 50 percent on common-core tests such as PARCC or Smarter Balanced.
In New Jersey, only about 4 in 10 students would have been eligible for graduation based on their PARCC scores if those scores had been a requirement for graduation this year, according to NewJersey.com.
In written comments before the vote, some members of the public expressed concern that the test would increase the chances that students wouldn’t finish high school. Responding to such comments, the Department of Education wrote that it is “mindful” of the risks of the new assessment requirement, and has “proposed a lengthy transition plan to ensure students have sufficient time to get accustomed to the new assessment system” before it becomes a graduation requirement.
The Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union have been tangling with the New Jersey Department of Education for many months about the way it imposed graduation requirements for the classes of 2016 through 2019: by memoranda, rather than hearings and public comment. A settlement in May didn’t change those rules—students in those classes still have to pass PARCC or one of the other exams on the list—but it cemented certain protections, including one that says that any student, not just those who fall short of PARCC proficiency, can use the portfolio process for graduation.
For more on the fight over graduation requirements in New Jersey, see:
Get High School & Beyond posts delivered to your inbox as soon as they’re published. Sign up here. Also, for news and analysis of issues that shape adolescents’ preparation for work and higher education.
A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.