New Jersey Waives High School Graduation Tests, Teacher Evaluations Amid Pandemic

January 12, 2021 Updated: January 13, 2021

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday that high school seniors across the state don’t have to pass the usual exit tests in order to graduate this year, and teachers will not be judged based on their students’ performance. He cited the ongoing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic as the reason.

Murphy said at a press news conference that he will sign an executive order waiving the graduation assessment test requirement for the class of 2021, as long as they meet all other credit curriculum standards and attendance benchmarks. Typically under state rules, 12th graders must pass standardized tests in math and English, and those who fail the tests must submit a portfolio of their work for the state to review.

“Given the unique challenges our students and educators are facing, we simply have to all reach the conclusion that this is not a normal or regular school year,” Murphy said. “We have to be more flexible and more understanding.”

In the same vein, teachers this year will also not be rated on student test scores or other academic measures. Instead, the sole measure of the teacher effectiveness will be classroom observations.

“We cannot adequately evaluate educator performance based on student growth objectives when remote learning has thrown so much uncertainty into the mix,” Murphy said, adding that the evaluation change can help substitute teachers earn tenure or keep their jobs amid a statewide teacher shortage.

New Jersey students are still going to take the federally mandated standardized tests this spring, unless the U.S. Department of Education says otherwise, according to Angelica Allen-McMillan, New Jersey’s acting commissioner of education. Federal K-12 education law requires states to test all students for English language arts, math, and science every year from grades three through eight, and once in high school.

Then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in March 2020 granted waivers to all 50 states, excusing them from testing requirements. In September, however, DeVos indicated that states shouldn’t expect another nationwide waiver for the school year 2020-21.

“We are planning to continue with our scheduled administration this spring as our federal guidelines mandate that we administer the New Jersey student learning assessment,” Allen-McMillan said at the press conference. “If there is a change with the incoming administration, we will weigh all of our options at that time.”

Murphy’s new executive order marks the second time New Jersey eased the rules around high school graduation requirement and teacher evaluations since the CCP virus outbreak. Last spring, also through an executive order, Murphy allowed high school seniors who had not passed the exit tests to graduate without submitting their portfolios. A rule requiring three observations for non-tenured teachers has also been dropped.