In a potentially significant move away from high stakes exit testing, NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has announced that new PARCC tests connected to the Common Core State Standards will not be tied to high school graduation for up to five years.

Commissioner Cerf mentioned these plans in remarks to the NJ School Boards Association on October 22 during the Association’s annual Fall Workshop in Atlantic City. He made similar remarks to a gathering of NJ superintendents in September.

The graduation policies outlined by the Commissioner have not been formalized, and many details remain unclear. Although NJ education regulations require districts to provide students and families with a list of requirements that must be met to obtain a diploma when they enter high school, virtually every NJ district is in violation of this regulation because the State has been slow to tell them what the new graduation requirements will be.

If endorsed by the State Board of Education and the NJ Legislature, a policy shift away from tying standardized tests to high school diplomas would be a very positive step for NJ students and schools. It would address multiple concerns raised by advocates, including Education Law Center, that the hurried implementation of more difficult PARCC exams could have a negative impact on graduation and dropout rates. (PARCC is the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the federally funded, multi-state consortium producing the new tests. NJ is a “governing member” of PARCC.)

As ELC has argued, there is little evidence that an exit testing policy leads to better prepared graduates or improved college completion rates, or that it benefits a state’s economy. Less than half the 50 states have high stakes graduation exams, and several that did recently ended them. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that such exams reduce graduation rates and increase incarceration rates by as much as 12%. The study found no corresponding positive effects on employment or earnings.

Advocates have argued that the transition to new exams offers a perfect opportunity to sever the unreliable link between high stakes tests and diplomas and to adopt more effective and more equitable assessment policies. The administration’s College and Career Readiness Task Force also proposed eliminating the link between the new exams and high school diplomas during a multi-year phase-in of the PARCC exams.  Indications that the Department is heeding these recommendations are welcome news.

PARCC tests will be given for the first time during the 2014-15 school year. Current juniors, scheduled to graduate in June 2016, will be the last to take the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) or the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA). In spring of 2015, secondary students will begin taking new exams in Algebra I and II and Geometry, plus language arts exams in grades 9, 10 and 11. According to the Commissioner, during the transition period, students now in grades 7 and above will take the new tests during their high school years but will not need a particular score to graduate. Students in grades 3-8 will also take new tests in place of NJASK.


Related Stories:


Part 1 of 3: What will Common Core Exams Mean for NJ Graduation Policies?

Part 2 of 3: Transition to New Tests Provides Opening for Better Assessment Policies

Part 3 of 3: NJ Needs Multiple Pathways to High School Graduation


Press Contact: 
Stan Karp
Director, Secondary Reform Project 
973-624-1815, x28

Share this post:

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240