Explainer: What New Jersey’s Graduating Seniors Need to Know

Students who don’t pass or take the PARCC exams have a veritable alphabet soup of alternative tests, from ACT to PSAT/NMSQT -- and can also submit a portfolio of their work

high school graduates
Public high schools across New Jersey graduated more than 80,000 seniors this month, certifying to colleges, employers, and the world at large that they have learned what is needed to function in society.

The requirements students have to fulfill to get a traditional state-endorsed diploma are established in regulations. Unlike New York, New Jersey does not offer different levels of diplomas, with one more advanced than another, so all students complete the same requirements. They were revised to align with the Core Curriculum Content Standards, with all changes fully in effect for the Class of 2016. The requirements are twofold, encompassing both coursework and testing.


Students need to complete 120 credits in specific areas. Each year-long course is equal to five credits. so the requirements break down to:

  • Four classes in English/language arts literacy;
  • Three math classes, including Algebra I and geometry, or their equivalents;
  • Three science classes, including biology or life science and either chemistry, physics, or environmental science;
  • Three social studies courses — one world history and two United States history classes that include the history of New Jersey and African -Americans — with civics, economics, geography, and global content integrated into all courses;
  • A half-year course in financial literacy;
  • Four years of health, safety, and physical education that encompass 150 minutes per week of instruction, with districts having latitude in determining the specifics;
  • One course in the visual or performing arts;
  • One world language course or demonstrated proficiency;
  • One course in careers or technical education;
  • Technology literacy integrated throughout the curriculum;
  • At least 3 1/2 years of additional elective courses.
  • Minimum

    Those courses are the minimum required by the state. Local districts may, and some do, mandate that students pass additional course requirements. One common local requirement, for instance, is a second year of a world language.


    Students need to pass a test in English/language arts literacy and one in math. The DOE dropped the HSPA this year and it was the first time the state used the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) as a graduation test.

    In a May 2016 memo, the state Department of Education specified a number of tests, each with a passing score, that seniors could pass in order to fulfill the assessment graduation requirement.

    In addition to a PARCC ELA test in grades nine, 10, or 11, a student could meet the requirement by scoring at least the state-specified score on one of the following: SAT reading, ACT or ACT PLAN reading, Acccuplacer WritePlacer or WritePlacer ESL, PSAT or PSAT/NMSQT reading, ACT Aspire reading, or ASVAB-AFQT.

    To fulfill the math assessment, a student had to achieve or best the cut score on one of these: PARCC Algebra I, geometry or Algebra II, math SAT, ACCT or ACT Plan math, Accuplacer Elementary Algebra, PSAT10 or PSAT/NMSQT math, ACT Aspire Math or ASVAB-AFQT.

    Seniors who did not take or score high enough on any of those tests could appeal to the DOE and submit a portfolio of their work to be evaluated. If the DOE staff determines the work meets state requirements — this year, the process may continue through September 1 — the DOE deems the student has satisfied the assessment requirement and can receive a diploma.

    For the next three years, seniors will have a similar array of testing possibilities, though the cut scores have not yet been established. Beginning with the Class of 2020, the department has proposed that high school students must take the PARCC ELA for grades nine-11 and the three math tests. That year, students would have the ability to have another test count as their assessment requirement, but starting in the following year, students who do not pass the PARCC ELA 10 and PARCC algebra would have to use the portfolio appeal process.


    State regulations also specify that seniors must meet “local student attendance requirements” and allow for districts to set additional mandates.

    Students in special-education programs who have an Individualized Education Plan may not have to meet some or all of these requirements, but would have to fulfill all those goals specified in the IEP.

    There are other ways for students no longer enrolled in high school to get a diploma, including passing the General Education Development test or earning at least 30 college general-education credits in a range of courses.