New Jersey plans to scrap the do-or-die test that 11th-graders must pass to graduate in favor of exams given each year that will allow academic adjustment for struggling students.
The Christie administration on Monday threw its support behind a series of recommendations from the College and Career Readiness Task Force to do away with the High School Proficiency Exam and Alternative High School Assessment. Under the plan, ninth-, 10th- and 11th- graders would instead take an exam on literacy and math at the end of each year, covering that academic year’s curriculum.
So, for example, the math section will cover just algebra or geometry, rather than folding several years of math into one exam, as is the case for the current test for high school juniors take.
Also, the end-of-year tests will move away from all multiple choice questions. Half of each exam will test application of knowledge and critical thinking with problem-solving questions and essays.
The new test-taking schedule will help identify students who are falling behind and better prepare them for college or a career, according to the state Department of Education. Surveys found that a significant chunk of New Jersey high school graduates need academic remediation in college, and that just half can pass an eighth-grade mathematics aptitude test needed for entry-level jobs.
The revised tests will create a “true K-16 continuum,” state Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said.
“… These new assessments will be able to identify whether students can apply their knowledge to the real world in ways that did not previously exist before,” he said in a statement. “When students cannot accomplish this goal, these assessments will provide new opportunities for schools to target instruction to the needs of individual students and put them back on track for graduation.”
More students may fail to graduate than previously reported, the education department said. The revised data comes from a new federally mandated methodology for calculating graduation rates.
The old system allowed for inflation by just comparing the total number of graduates to the dropouts. The new system requires districts to track the outcome of students who leave the district for better data.
Under the old calculation, New Jersey had a 94.7 percent graduation rate for the class of 2011. Under the new system, it was 83 percent.
Ensuring that students are on track at the end of each year could address that rate, education officials said.
The switch to the new tests will roll out over several years. Current high school students will continue taking the High School Proficiency Exam and Alternative High School Assessment to qualify for graduation.
Students in fifth through eighth grades will be in the pilot group for the new tests, but their transcripts will qualify them for graduation while the schools adjust to the new system.
Current fourth-graders—the class of 2020—will be the first to graduate based on the test results they’ll take throughout high school.
“Preparing students for college and career is not only a moral imperative, it is an economic necessity to keep New Jersey competitive given the demands of the 21st century,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement. “In too many areas of our state—often in our lowest performing districts—when students graduate high school they are not truly ready for college or a career.
“These new graduation requirements will better measure college and career readiness so that a high school diploma earned in New Jersey is the gold standard for the country.”
Click on the PDF, above right, to view the task force's recommendation report.