Bill would waive graduation testing requirement in 2023

By: - March 11, 2022 6:48 am

Most students went unmasked in social studies teacher Stacy Schiller’s Raritan High School classroom on March 7, 2022. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

An Assembly committee unanimously advanced a bill Thursday that would waive a requirement that 11th graders pass a new test in order to graduate, citing fears that two years of disruptions at school have left students unprepared for the exam.

Lawmakers, led by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), had initially sought to lower the passing score of the test, the New Jersey Grade Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA), from 750 to 725. They amended the bill to say the exam cannot be used as a prerequisite for graduation for the class of 2023.

“To me, it’s almost educational malpractice to institute a requirement like that at this point,” Caputo said.

Schools will begin to administer the assessment, which measures proficiency in algebra, geometry, and language arts, to 11th graders this spring. The test is made up of questions pulled from previous graduation exams and was not evaluated in the field before its adoption.

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) said she would introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

About 59% of students were at or above proficiency in English language arts in spring 2019, according to state testing data. They were worse off in math: Only 43% were at or above proficiency in algebra, and just 32% scored passing grades in geometry.

Gov. Phil Murphy waived graduation testing requirements for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years because of the pandemic. Data for those years are unavailable.

The State Board of Education in February approved the 750-point passing score against the recommendation of the Department of Education and its acting commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillan. Some of the board’s members expressed concerns the lower score would lead to more students needing remedial classes after entering college.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not provide comment.

Advocates and the New Jersey Education Association, which supports Caputo’s bill, have urged the state to do away with its testing requirements — as numerous other states have over recent decades — saying they cause measurable harm and do little to help students.

“Exit tests like the NJGPA have no instructional value. Their only purpose is punitive, to deny diplomas to students who stayed in school and who have met all the course credit and the other requirements to graduate,” said Stan Karp, director of the Education Law Center’s secondary reform project. “It’s an inappropriate use of testing that doesn’t help students who pass and hurts the students who don’t — especially the most vulnerable.”

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the Assembly Education Committee chairwoman, said she’d like to see the exit test sunset and the savings used to help fund universal preschools, but added any such move would need to be preceded by an examination of past assessments.

“I think it’s a wait-and-see,” she said. “Let’s see how the administration responds to this piece of legislation. There are many issues to work on, so we’re going to be picking and choosing the issues that we can get done.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which did not take a position on the bill but backed suspending it as a graduation requirement for 2023, warned a lower passing score would have negative impacts as students enter the workforce.

“Having higher standards, having accountability is a good thing. I think one of the most important things is high expectations for our students, and if we start lowering expectations, then I think you’re going to have students who are going to meet those lower expectations,” said Chris Emigholz, vice president of government affairs for the NJBIA. “Any attempt to lower standards is always very worrisome in terms of the future workforce.”


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.