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The percentage of New Jersey high school seniors who graduated last June reached a new high point, with slightly more than nine in 10 students getting a diploma, according to new data released by state education officials Thursday.
This accomplishment is especially noteworthy since the class of 2016 was the first that was supposed to pass the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or an alternate test in order to graduate, although students could also use portfolios. As recently as last April, estimates put 10,000 students in danger of not graduating because they had not passed one or both PARCC sections or substitute tests such as the SAT or ACT.
“We commend the efforts of our students and educators in achieving this tremendous accomplishment,” said acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington.
The graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 90.1 percent when calculated using the federally mandated method that counts students enrolled as freshmen four years earlier who got their diplomas last summer. It replaced a system that was looser and led to inflated figures. The class of 2011, the first for whom the federal cohort method was used, had an 83 percent graduation rate. It has inched up ever since, with the rate for the class of 2015 being 89.7 percent.
The rates differed considerably by school. All students graduated in 19 small specialized schools, including vocational academies and charters; all but one, Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High in Jersey City, had graduating classes of fewer than 100. At the other end of the spectrum were some urban schools. Two, Knowledge Advanced Skills in the Hudson County vocational district and Daylight/Twilight in Trenton, had graduation rates of less than 30 percent.
Just as the overall graduation rate rose statewide, so did the rates for each of the main racial and ethnic groups and for students with special circumstances. For instance, 83.4 percent of Hispanics graduated, up from 82.8 percent in 2015 and 73 percent in 2011. The graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students rose by 1 percentage point in the past year, and 11.7 points over the past five years, to 82.7 percent. For the other groups:
Although the use of PARCC language arts and math scores as a graduation requirement had caused an uproar, state Department of Education officials had said as late as last May that would not prevent seniors from graduating because they could use other tests, a portfolio, or an appeals process to prove they had mastered the skills required for graduation.
Stan Karp of the Education Law Center, which challenged the state’s revised graduation requirements last year and has filed suit to stop the DOE from mandating passage of PARCC alone in order to receive a diploma starting in 2021, said the real impact of the test on the graduation rate will be felt in a few years.
“Right now, kids are using all the other pathways to graduate,” said Karp, who directs the ELC’s Secondary Education Reform Project. “Only 9 percent of 2016 graduates passed two PARCC tests … Under NJDOE’s plans, the ‘substitute’ tests disappear in 2020 and just PARCC and the portfolio remain. That’s when the real impact will appear. If those rules had been in place last year, about 80,000 seniors would have needed portfolios to graduate.”
The state, however, has no plans at the moment to change that tough requirement — that all members of the Class of 2021 pass the PARCC 10th grade language arts and Algebra I tests.
Harrington said the DOE remains committed to implementing “graduation standards that more honestly demonstrate a graduate’s preparedness for college, career, and community experiences beyond high school.”