TRENTON – State lawmakers are trying to finally establish long-term clarity for New Jersey’s muddled high school testing and graduation requirements.

A court ruling that found graduation assessments can start no sooner than 11th grade, combined with canceled standardized testing after school doors were closed for months early in the pandemic, have upended graduation rules for the last three classes of high school graduates.

A bill endorsed Monday by the Senate Education Committee directs the state Department of Education to begin developing or designating graduation proficiency assessments in reading, writing and math that can be in place starting with the Class of 2026, the incoming freshman class in September.

The classes of 2023, 2024 and 2025 – the incoming sophomore, junior and senior classes – would be covered by the old graduation requirements in place as of last October.

Also, in a vote that matched one made three months ago by the Assembly, the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessments (NJGPA) taken in March by the Class of 2023 would be considered a field test, as that was the first time that test had ever been given in that format.

“The legislation is a solid step forward in the roller coaster ride of state assessment requirements, and we hope it is the beginning of a period of consistency in policy, testing quality and relevance of our state testing to students,” said Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

A number of education groups supported the bill, but not all of them. The New Jersey Education Association was neutral, as the union generally opposes state graduation assessments. Some other groups testified against the bill, saying exit exams should be abandoned rather than tweaked.

“It is not a federal requirement. It does cost a lot of money,” said Julie Borst, executive director of Save Our Schools New Jersey. “And of course, we all know what the result of not having a high school diploma means for students.”

“The research on high school exit testing is extremely clear. It does not help students who pass those tests, and it really hurts students who don’t,” said Sharon Krengel of the Education Law Center, who said it increases dropout and incarceration rates without improving college participation, college completion or economic prospects.

Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said the only ones who benefit from such testing are the companies paid to develop the exams.

Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said the intent of the bill isn’t to debate the value of graduation exams, which she said are important. But she said the years of uncertainty about the state’s graduation rules need to end, rather than be mended year to year.

“I’m not trying to do anything undercover,” Ruiz said. “I’m not perpetrating, I’m not trying to do more assessments. I’m trying to be sure that we have a long and final solution.”

Get our free mobile app

The bill eliminates the requirement that the proficiency test must start being given in 11th grade.

It also says that in order for a student to seek to qualify for graduation through a review of their high school portfolio, rather than passing either the state standardized test or getting a high enough score on an alternative such as the SAT, the student must take the state’s test.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

Click here to contact an editor about feedback or a correction for this story.

Average SAT scores for all NJ high schools, 2020-21

Average SAT scores for the 2020-2021 school year are listed by county, from highest to lowest. Data includes the combined score, as well as the average scores on the math and reading/writing sections.

Participation rates show the share of 12th graders in the Class of 2021 who took the SAT in 2020-21 or in prior years.

High schools aren't listed if there is no data or the number of students participating was low enough that average scores were not publicly reported to protect student privacy.

UP NEXT: See how much gasoline cost the year you started driving