New Year, New Standards: New Jersey Replaces Education Commissioner and Passes New Graduation Requirements

By Matthew Wikfors


Photo Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Two months ago, school started and everyone prepared for the new year.  There’s new books, new teachers, new binders, new classes, new supplies- and a new state Education Commissioner with new graduation requirements.

Kimberly Harrington, the newly appointed Education Commissioner was a strategic choice for the position.  According to her biography on the New Jersey Department of Education website, Harrington is a former teacher and has spent over 20 years teaching while working with parents and students.  Harrington has taught all grades kindergarten through eighth, and has been working for the Department of Education for four years.

Her focus, as a teacher and part of the Department of Education, has always been about fostering a strong environment for learning and growth.

When introducing her new position, Governor Chris Christie said,  “New Jersey has made tremendous progress in advancing our education system over the last six years, and Kimberley Harrington’s extensive experience as a classroom teacher and effective administrator will ensure that we continue the progress.”

The reason for a replacement was due to former Education Commissioner, David Hespe, resigning from his position in early September after only two and a half years of service.  

In an interview with NJ Spotlight, he said, “When you look back and see how difficult this job can be and what you have to put into it, I think anybody would realize the ability to sprint that long is difficult.”  

However, his departure is not surprising as New Jersey has seen five commissioners come and go in seven years.   

With the new commissioner comes with a new set of graduation requirements for high school.  The number of credits and mandatory courses has not changed, but the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams have a major impact on the graduating classes.  

Before the changes, students were required to take the High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA, in order to pass.  

“The HSPA was taken just junior year in language arts and in math,” said Hills Vice Principal Tim Wieland.  Wieland had also said the test had been around when he was in high school but was known as the High School Proficiency Test at the time.. The HSPA tested high school level standards on par with the content of the NJ ASK and the two were paired together.  Obviously, since the NJ ASK (New Jersey Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) has been replaced for Common Core standards so the test was no longer relevant.

A passing score on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is not an immediate requirement.  The  regulations are only transitional and will take full effect in 2021.  A prime example of this is the requirement for freshmen this year.

“They have to have sat for the PARCC, so they actually have to sit and take the PARCC,” Wieland said.  This means that students have to have been present for the PARCC and have spent the four days testing.  The student cannot opt out and must complete the test.  

The transition includes a clause that if students do not pass, they can use portfolio work, take an intermedial class or pass a substitute test, to fill the requirement instead.  

However, in 2021, students must receive a four or a five on both the language arts and math portions of the PARCC, and substitute tests will not be allowed to replace a failed score.   A silver lining to this is these requirements do not include for seniors.  According to Director of Curriculum Barry Bachenheimer, seniors do not have to test as long as they have passed one of the other requirements.

As of November 8, the official requirements for high school mathematics and ELA for the PARCC are as follows: students currently involved in Algebra 1, Geometry, or Algebra 2 must take the PARCC for that course and students must take the ELA test associated with their course.  Bachenheimer stated that this information was just released from the state a few weeks ago and that this will be how the exams will go this year.

With a new Education Commissioner and stricter high school graduation requirements, most schools would be in a panic.  

“I’m not worried about students and the new requirements,” says Wieland.“The graduation rate for Hills is in the 90 percent range.”