Promised review of high school graduation test ‘cut scores’ still missing

March 6, 202

This month nearly 100,000 high school juniors will take the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA). Students in the class of 2024 must pass the NJGPA or an approved substitute to graduate, since New Jersey remains one of just eight states that require “exit testing” for a high school diploma.

The NJGPA was given for the first time last year, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and a widespread mental health crisis among students, the New Jersey Legislature stepped in and required the New Jersey Department of Education to use the new exam as a “field test” instead of a graduation requirement.

Concerns were also raised about a last-minute decision by the State Board of Education in February 2022 to reject the Department’s recommended passing, or “cut,” score of 725 and adopt a higher benchmark of 750. This contributed to lower passing rates [link to chart] with just 39% of students passing the English Language Arts section of the test and 50% passing math. Education Law Center estimates the higher cut score reduced passing rates by 15-20% on each section.

This year the test is being given as a graduation requirement. Students in the class of 2024 must pass the NJGPA or an approved alternative to receive a diploma. However, because the State Board has not completed promised reviews of the passing scores on the NJGPA or the “substitute competency” alternative tests, students don’t know what scores they need to satisfy the requirement.

The State Board resolution that set the 750 cut score promised that “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 maintain or modify said cut score.”

But to date there has been no public review of the NJGPA passing score, even though the test will be given again this March 13 -17, and no adoption of cut scores for the alternative tests. For more than a year the Department’s website has promised: “Cut scores forthcoming following New Jersey State Board of Education Approval.” Yet, as of March a proposal to set those scores has not even made it onto the State Board’s monthly agenda.

ELC recently sent a letter [link] to Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan requesting information about the required review of the NJGPA cut score and the passing scores for the alternative test.

“If the NJGPA passing score remains the same as last year, 50-60,000 students in the class of 2024 will likely have to take one or more alternative tests for which the State Board has failed to provide passing levels,” said Stan Karp, Director of ELC’s Secondary Reform Project. “It is unclear when or how these students will find out if they have satisfied the requirement for graduation.”

“Exit testing for diplomas is a failed policy that doesn’t help the students who pass and hurts the students who don’t,” Mr. Karp added. “That’s why most states have abandoned it. Here in New Jersey, the State Board has repeatedly made a mess of the exit-testing mandate, adopting hopelessly complicated rules and failing to provide timely information. This has had a negative effect on students, families and schools.”

There is pending legislation, A4639/S3309, that would revise the 43-year-old state statute mandating a graduation test, while leaving in place a full slate of assessments that meet all federal accountability requirements and provide detailed data about school and student performance. That legislation, with a long list of sponsors, was posted for discussion only on the most recent Assembly Education Committee agenda and has yet to be discussed in the Senate Education Committee.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel

Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications


973-624-1815, x 24

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