New 11th-Grade Test on the Way, ‘Opt Outs’ Can’t Graduate

The NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) is planning to resume high school graduation testing for the 2021-22 school year following a two-year suspension of the requirement during the Covid-19 pandemic. The plans include a new 11th-grade test and a new set of graduation rules for the classes of 2023 and beyond.

Seniors returning this fall, the class of 2022, will be the last class covered by a consent agreement that grew out of a successful legal challenge to the state’s graduation rules in 2018. These students will have unrestricted access to multiple pathways
to meet the testing requirement for graduation. However, because state testing has been suspended for the past two years, a much larger number of students than usual will enter senior year still needing to satisfy the requirement. Typically, more than half the class would have done so as juniors or sophomores by passing state tests that were not administered due to the pandemic.

“Given all the issues schools face for reopening in the fall, it’s not surprising this one has been under the radar,” said Stan Karp, Director of Education Law Center’s Secondary Reform Project. “But students in the class of 2022 have missed multiple opportunities to satisfy the graduation assessment requirement that they won’t get back, and none of the state tests used to satisfy the requirement are typically administered to seniors. Access to alternative tests has also been disrupted by school closures during the pandemic.”

“Before school starts in September, the NJDOE needs to issue clear guidance to seniors about what opportunities they will be given to satisfy the testing requirement for graduation. If those opportunities are not consistent with the consent agreement, the Department should suspend the requirement for the class of 2022,” Mr. Karp added.

Different Set of Hurdles for Students Beyond the Class of 2022

In May, the State Board of Education proposed new graduation rules for the class of 2023 and beyond. Initially, NJDOE planned to fast-track adoption of the new rules without public comment, but after objections
were raised by ELC and others, the legally mandated opportunity for public input was provided. The proposal is currently subject to a 60-day public comment period before a vote on final adoption.

The pending rules include new restrictions on access to alternatives for satisfying the graduation assessment requirement. If these rules are approved, students would only be able to use alternative tests, including the portfolio assessment, after they first took and did not pass the mandatory state test. Students who “opt out” of the state test would not be able to graduate.

Tens of thousands of students each year rely on alternative assessments to graduate. English learners, who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, disproportionately utilize the portfolio option. Restricting access to these alternatives could have a significant impact on the state’s graduation rate.

The rules proposal also includes implementation of a new 11th-grade graduation test that would be administered for the first time to juniors—the class of 2023—next spring. The new test will be added to a crowded assessment calendar for the 2021-2022 school year that already includes a new round of mandatory “Start Strong” assessments soon after schools reopen in September and the resumption of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments in the spring.

Although federal law mandates annual testing, New Jersey’s graduation assessment rules are state requirements that stem from the fact that New Jersey remains one of the few states that links high school diplomas to a passing score on a standardized test. Governor Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to eliminate such testing, but the 40-year-old law that requires a high school exit test remains on the books.

“Exit testing for high school diplomas is a failed policy that doesn’t help the students who pass and hurts the students who don’t,” said Mr. Karp. “Research shows that it increases dropout rates and incarceration rates without improving college participation, college completion levels, or economic prospects for graduates.”

“In the last few years more than a dozen states have repealed their exit testing policies,” he added. “New Jersey should do the same. But until that happens, the NJDOE needs to provide clear guidance, transparent data and multiple opportunities for students to satisfy the requirement and graduate on time.”

Members of the public can submit written comments about the proposed graduation rules through August 6, 2021. Comments can be submitted via regular mail or e-mail to:

Lisa Gleason, Ed.D., Assistant Commissioner
Division of Academics and Performance
New Jersey Department of Education
100 River View Executive Plaza
PO Box 500
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0500
Email: chapter8@doe.nj.gov


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Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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