New Jersey Ties Graduation to Tests Aligned With Common Core Standards

The New Jersey Board of Education voted on Wednesday to require high school students to pass tests aligned with contentious standards, even as other states have moved away from these assessments.

Beginning in 2021, in order to graduate, students will have to pass the Algebra 1 exam and the 10th-grade English exam given as part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or Parcc, tests. This year, just 44 percent of students statewide passed that English exam and 41 percent passed Algebra 1.

Under the new rules, those who do not pass can still graduate if a portfolio review of other work is approved.

The Parcc test was one of two main assessments designed to align with the Common Core standards, a group of learning goals for students devised to ensure they were being adequately prepared for college. The standards were adopted across the country starting in 2010, encouraged by money from the Obama administration, but they have faced a strong backlash. Many states have stepped away from the tests, or from the standards altogether.

New Jersey is moving in the opposite direction.

“We believe Parcc is the best test out there and that it is aligned in the best way to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in math and language arts,” said Mark W. Biedron, president of the board. “It gives you a great measure of college and career readiness.”

Students in New Jersey have taken some form of standardized test in order to graduate for more than 30 years, according to the State Education Department. Students can currently use a passing grade on close to a dozen tests in math and English to get a diploma; Parcc would replace them.

There has been resistance to the Parcc graduation requirements, according to The Record, a North Jersey newspaper, from educators, parents and activists who are concerned that schools are focusing too much on the tests, or that more students may end up dropping out.

Last year, the state saw a rebellion against Parcc, as tens of thousands of students refused to take the test. But this year, the tests were 90 minutes shorter, with fewer testing sessions, and the number of families refusing to have their children take them appears to have fallen significantly. The State Education Department said 66,000 more students took the math Parcc tests this year and 57,000 more sat for the English assessments than in 2015.

In New York, by contrast, the movement to refuse has not been diluted by a shortening of the Common Core aligned exams — students in New York do not take Parcc. About 20 percent of eligible students in New York opted out of the exams this year for third through eighth graders, a figure roughly unchanged from last year.

In New Jersey, the Parcc is generally given to students in third through 11th grade.

The New Jersey Board of Education also voted to give more local control back to the City of Newark, whose schools have been controlled by the state since 1995. The state has been returning control to the city in phases, and on Wednesday gave the city more power to make personnel decisions.

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