Students in New Jersey who enter the eighth grade in the coming academic year will be facing a new graduation requirement when they become seniors in 2021 — the pupils will have to prove their readiness by passing two standardized tests that less than 50% of New Jersey students have been able to pass as of this year.
The New Jersey Board of Education has adopted the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams as the state's new assessment for graduation, and potential graduates will now also have to pass the Algebra 1 and 10th-grade English tests.
"That's a goalâ¦ that in 2021 students will be ready to demonstrate that they are proficient or above," Education Commissioner David Hespe said. "You have to have an aggressive goal."
The vote comes after months of debate among teachers, parents, and local school boards, and even protests outside of state board meetings. The move ends many pupils' choice to "opt out" of high school exams, according to Adam Clark for New Jersey Advance Media.
Currently, only 15 states are giving high school graduation exams, and no states rely totally on an exam from a multi-state testing consortium like PARCC.
A parent group, Save Our Schools NJ, is opposed to PARCC testing and denounced the board for passing the plan. The group exists to ensure that all of New Jersey's students have access to high-quality public education. The group explained in a statement:
"Despite unified opposition from parents, school board members, and teachers, the State Board of Education has chosen to endorse a graduation requirement so inappropriately difficult that it would fail 60% of New Jersey students."
Talia Balakirsky, reporting for Philadelphia Magazine, says the possibility is that the differences of opinions concerning PARCC will result in ongoing contention for many more months, even though the policy has already passed.
Education Commissioner David Hespe told the public not to be troubled about the new assessments. The change is still five years away, which means schools and students have time to become familiar with the test, learn from it, and improve.
Lisa Vassallo of Stafford, who helped collect more than 9,000 signatures for a petition protesting the test she presented to the state Department of Education, said:
"The state of New Jersey hasn't heard anything we parents have been saying over the last few years. I feel sorry for our students. This is going to ruin New Jersey's public education."
Hespe pointed out that the PARCC exams are a better measurement of college readiness and skills. This change is necessary since many students need remediation before they begin college even though they have received a diploma, reports Hannan Adely of the Asbury Park Press.
Education activist Kim Barron, who is also president of the Mahwah School Board, says the state should consider allowing students who do not pass the test to appeal based on a portfolio of projects completed, school work, and transcripts.
The Associated Press says the day after the state adopted the new requirements, state officials announced that a higher number of students had met or surpassed the expectations on the assessments.