In accordance with federal law, New Jersey students are tested in math and reading in grades 3 to 8 and at least once in high school. The tests measure students’ progress and identify schools that need additional support. Until 2014, New Jersey students took the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) exam. Opponents claimed that it was too easy, allowing students to pass without actually having the skills needed for success.
In the 2014-15 school year, NJASK was replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, which were developed by a group of states. However, PARCC was likewise controversial. Both educators and families claimed that teachers were forced to “teach to the tests”; additionally, they were considered difficult and time-consuming.
Thousands of students opted out of taking the PARCC exams. But business and college leaders noted that students were not sufficiently prepared for post-high school education and careers, and pushed for more rigorous standards.
While campaigning, Governor Phil Murphy pledged to eliminate the graduation testing requirement, which is not federally mandated. In the fall of 2018, the state’s Department of Education announced shorter exams called New Jersey Student Learning Assessments. In addition, the impact of students’ test scores on teacher evaluations was reduced from 30% to 5%.
On December 31, 2018, in response to a suit filed by the Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Superior Court Appellate Division noted that state law requires students to pass only a single test in grade 11 in order to graduate. Therefore, the testing requirements for PARCC Algebra 1 and 10th-grade English were ruled illegal. On February 15, 2019, the state reached a settlement that clears the way to graduation for approximately 170,000 juniors and seniors who had passed state exams and were in limbo following the court’s decision.
Under the settlement, current New Jersey high school juniors and seniors can graduate if they have passing scores on PARCC exams or other approved standardized tests (such as the SAT, ACT, or military placement exam). The agreement gives the Department of Education time to develop and propose new graduation testing rules for current freshmen and sophomores.
Senate and Assembly committees have advanced bills to allow the state to give a graduation assessment(s) and eliminate the requirement that it be done in grade 11. According to North Jersey Record, the governor’s office anticipates adopting a new state assessment for grade 11 starting next year.