The New Jersey Board of Education voted yesterday to require high school students to pass standardized tests from PARCC or a substitute test before they can get their diploma Education Week reports.
Beginning with the Class of 2021, this year’s eighth graders, 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.
Passing rates this year in the state were 44 percent on the 10th-grade English exam and 41 percent on the algebra 1 test. If students in the Class of 2021 don’t pass one of the tests, they can submit a portfolio to demonstrate their mastery of the standards in the Common Core, to which the PARCC tests are aligned. Or, they can substitute another appropriate test: ACT Aspire, the ACT, PSAT, SAT, Accuplacer, or the ASVAB-AFQT (military entrance exam).
Other states have backed away from the use of PARCC, including Louisiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Illinois for high school. But New Jersey seems headed in the opposite direction with the tests when it comes to graduation requirements.
“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,” the New York Times quoted Mark W Biedron, president of the board, as saying. “It gives you a great measure of college and career readiness.”
PARCC replaces several tests on the list of choices New Jersey students have for graduation, and students can actually choose any of the accepted tests in order to demonstrate mastery of the course material. They don’t have to fail the PARCC test first but can move right to one of the other exams.
Some people are afraid that using the tests as a graduation requirement will lead to an increased dropout rate, as students who don’t pass the test might give up before they achieve a passing mark on a replacement test or submit an acceptable portfolio of their work.
The data don’t show that such an increase would occur, however, especially since students have other options. Beginning with the Class of 2009, Maryland students have had to pass four tests or use a combined score from all of them in order to graduate. If they failed to achieve the required scores, they could submit a project in the subject area of the failed tests—10th-grade English, algebra 1, government, and biology—to earn extra points toward a passing score.
As of 2012, eight states required students to pass at least one end-of-course test in order to graduate: Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, and Virginia. All these states provided students who failed the tests on the first try with opportunities to retake them before the end of 12th grade. The number of retake opportunities varies from state to state.
In Maryland, about 75 percent of students pass the biology and English exams on the first try, and about 80 percent pass the algebra test. However, throughout the transition, which began several years before the graduation requirement took effect, the dropout rates did not increase, according to tables published by the National Center for Education Statistics:
High school dropout rates (% of cohort)
There was a change in the reporting method for high school dropout rates, but rates didn’t go up in Maryland after the state began requiring the graduation tests. Illinois’s rate is reported for completeness, but the state does not require a test for high school graduation.
Furthermore, according to the Hechinger Report, high school exit exams may not be a valid measure of “college readiness,” a term that boggles the mind in terms of its utter lack of meaning. “The number of students passing exit tests and graduating from high school is at an all-time high, but nearly 60 percent of students in community colleges need remedial courses before they can take college-level classes,” the news site writes.
Mary Fulton, who has studied this issue as a senior research analyst at the Education Commission of the States, which works with state policymakers on education, was quoted as saying, “We haven’t aligned the curriculum and assessments so that we can be sure that if a student mastered high school material then they’re ready for college.”