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1-8-14 NJ Schools Rank High on Education Quality...NJ ASK Test Updated for Transition to Common Core
Star Ledger – N.J. schools near top in nation in student achievement, new study finds…New Jersey students rank second and third in the nation in success in life & achievement, per study released today

The Record - Schools’ new strategies raise North Jersey graduation rates… “As New Jersey schools struggle to push thousands of additional teenagers to earn diplomas every year, educators are trying a range of steps — from nudging students to recoup missing credits online to extending the school day and expanding vocational courses. A look at districts with some of the biggest jumps in graduation rates offers lessons in what might help…”

NJ Spotlight - NJASK Updated As Part of Ongoing Transition to Common Core…Revised middle-school math exams alter profile of what students need to know in grades 6 to 8

Star Ledger – N.J. schools near top in nation in student achievement, new study finds…New Jersey students rank second and third in the nation in success in life & achievement, per study released today

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on January 08, 2014

New Jersey schools rank near the top in the nation in student achievement and chance for success, according to a study released today.

The Quality Counts report from the non-profit Editorial Projects in Education, the Maryland publisher of Education Week, studies the academic, social and financial forces that are shaping school districts. In addition to state highlights, the report examines key issues facing district leaders around the country.

New Jersey is a perennial powerhouse in this and other studies about the quality of education. The state ranked second, behind Massachusetts, in the Chance for Success Index, a measure of the role of education in an individual's life. New Jersey's B+ grade was significantly higher than the national average of C+.

New Jersey ranked third in K-12 Achievement, an index that measures performance of public school in 18 indicators. Massachusetts and Maryland were one and two. The state's grade of B- was higher than the national average of C-.

However, New Jersey ranked below average in two other categories, scoring a C (and ranking 44) for standards, assessments and accountability and D+, and a 38 ranking, for teaching profession. According to the report, New Jersey has no incentives for teachers or principals working in hard-to-staff disciplines or targeted schools, no salary parity with other occupations, and no financial incentives for teachers to earn national certifications.

Much of New Jersey's success is linked to higher than average family income, parent education, and employment. The state also ranks high in preschool enrollment. High school graduation rate and post-secondary education enrollment are other factors.

The 18th edition of the national report also looks at school choice initiatives, district mergers and policy shifts and how they are transforming schools. Among its key findings are:

• Charter schools are the fastest growing segment of non-traditional public schools, with 5,500 charters educating 1.7 million students in 2011-12.

• Nine of 10 district officials reported economic challenges were forcing change, while two-thirds reported low student achievement were resulting in change.

• Six in 10 district officials reported support for charter and home schooling, but fewer than 2 in 10 supported voucher programs.

 

The Record - Schools’ new strategies raise North Jersey graduation rates… “As New Jersey schools struggle to push thousands of additional teenagers to earn diplomas every year, educators are trying a range of steps — from nudging students to recoup missing credits online to extending the school day and expanding vocational courses. A look at districts with some of the biggest jumps in graduation rates offers lessons in what might help…”

Tuesday January 7, 2014, 11:35 PM  BY  LESLIE BRODY

As New Jersey schools struggle to push thousands of additional teenagers to earn diplomas every year, educators are trying a range of steps — from nudging students to recoup missing credits online to extending the school day and expanding vocational courses.

A look at districts with some of the biggest jumps in graduation rates offers lessons in what might help.

The latest state data, released in December, showed that in Elmwood Park, the graduation rate exceeded 88 percent last year, up from 77 percent the year before.

In Passaic, it hit 71 percent, up from 61 percent the year before.

And in Paterson, it rose to 72 percent, from 66 percent.

Some of these rises may be due to schools’ new vigilance in tracking students who left, so that transfers aren’t mistakenly counted as dropouts. But their leaders say much of the statistical increases reflected real change.

One clear example came in a stuffy room lined with computers in Passaic’s sprawling high school. After the regular day ended on a recent afternoon, Aliyah Vargas, a 17-year-old senior, stayed late to click away at a Spanish course online. The credit-recovery program is expected this year to help more than 200 students make up for classes they flunked or skipped.

Vargas blamed herself for goofing off too much during her first years in high school, before she got scared about her job prospects. “You have no future if you don’t graduate,” she said.

In Elmwood Park, Superintendent Richard Tomko said the improved graduation figures reflected more tutoring for struggling students, more mentoring for those at risk of dropping out and beefing up college fairs to motivate students.

Furthermore, he said, three years ago the guidance office began requiring every student to meet at least once a year with a counselor to fill out a written “road map” of goals. “It forces a dialogue to make sure students are on the right track and see where they need help,” Tomko said. “The biggest thing is face-to-face contact.”

The school also started alerting parents mid-semester that their children were in danger of failing instead of waiting until late in the year. “It did get people’s attention,” he said. “The more people involved in measuring a student, saying ‘Hang in there, you have us to rely on,’ the more likely it is the student will finish.”

In Paterson, officials cited more sophisticated teacher training and breaking the city’s large comprehensive high schools into small, themed academies for science, culinary arts, business and other disciplines. Paterson Superintendent Donnie Evans is scheduled to discuss such progress, challenges and the next steps today during the state Board of Education’s annual review of state-operated districts at Rutgers University in Piscataway.

New Jersey’s focus on graduation is part of a nationwide effort to prepare more young people for an increasingly competitive global job market with few good options for low-skilled workers. In scores announced in December for the test of 15-year-olds known as PISA – or the Program for International Student Assessment – America’s ranking fell to 29th in math among industrialized countries.

In a speech lamenting those results, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned of the urgent need to do better to survive.

“When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, it was possible for my friends to drop out of high school and still land a decent-paying job in the stockyards or the steel mills that would allow you to support a family,” he said. “That is no longer the case. … To land a job that pays a living wage, most people will need at least some college.”

In the past three years, many states woke up to the harsh reality that they were not doing as well as it seemed. Their official graduation rates dropped after a federal mandate to use a more honest method for calculating them. New Jersey’s reported rate fell to 83 percent in 2011, far below its past boasts of 95 percent. (It edged up to 87.5 percent last year). The new method took the number of freshmen entering each high school and counted how many earned diplomas in four years, with adjustments for verified transfers in and out.

The change dealt a serious blow to Passaic High School, where the faculty thought the school had an 80 percent graduation rate. The new calculation knocked it down by 20 percentage points.

“We were devastated,” said Joanne Czap, data coordinator. “Everyone thought we were working so hard.”

Most of Passaic’s students are poor and Hispanic, with 15 percent speaking limited English. Many face a daunting mix of problems, teachers say, including fractured families, apathy and the pain of separation from relatives in their home countries. Some come to school exhausted from earning paychecks their families depend on. Indeed, one 17-year-old in the credit recovery lab said that three days a week he took a bus after school to his factory job operating a forklift until 11:30 p.m.

Because of its especially low graduation rate, the state flagged the school as needing immediate oversight and put it under the watch of a new state office called a “Regional Achievement Center.” Thomas De Naples,  interim principal of Passaic High School, said that to his surprise, the center’s involvement proved helpful: Tapping New Jersey’s pool of federal funds for disadvantaged students, advisers brought in an additional $605,000 to execute an improvement plan.

In the 2012-13 school year, that money paid for adding 56 minutes of instruction per day, a Saturday remedial program to help students at risk of failing a graduation exam and after-school tutoring targeted to students’ weaknesses rather than just general homework help. Coaches were hired for teachers in math, special education and English as a second language.

The school also added hands-on courses in plumbing, carpentry and masonry to appeal to students who might not see the relevance of puzzling through novels and algebra. It has long had a large Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and an award-winning marching band to keep kids engaged.

But for too many students, that’s not enough. “Either they become disinterested, or have to work or maybe raise a family,” said De Naples. School officials know of 24 students who are pregnant or had babies so far this academic year out of more than 2,700.

One student’s lack of motivation was clear on a recent morning as a uniformed school resource officer addressed him in Spanish about the consequences of his chronic tardiness. The boy’s mother had been called in as well. A single mother with six children, her expression was grave and anxious. She said she didn’t realize her son had been missing school because he kept telling her otherwise.

“Our job is to get students to realize the first step to being successful is getting an education,” Vice Principal Daniel Lungren said afterward. “I don’t think people made sacrifices to come to this country to wash dishes for 50 years. If you want to work in a restaurant, you should have the opportunity to own it.”

The school beefed up its anti-truancy efforts. Attendance officers make more than 120 visits a month to drag missing students out of bed or find out what’s wrong. Minnie Hiller-Cousins, head of dropout prevention, said officers often see signs of families in distress, including padlocks on doors because they were evicted.

Elizabeth DeMarco, who teaches English as a second language, applauds students who come to school despite serious hardships. She spoke of one student she pulled aside when he started failing.

“He told me he lives in a basement,” she said. “His parents are in another country. He is staying with relatives who mistreat him and his sister, and there’s not a lot of heat. They are kicking them out at 18, and he is working a job to support his sister. That’s not unusual, living with that stress. It’s a miracle some kids get to school at all.”

The school administration has tried to give the faculty more say. Experts in international education comparisons have noted that in high-performing countries, teachers tend to have a high degree of professional autonomy and an “ownership culture.” Last year, Principal Tobias Weissman – who stepped down for medical reasons – encouraged teachers from different departments to join teams that meet regularly to focus on discipline, assessment, guidance and using data to guide instruction.

“Now teachers have a voice,” said Johanna Valente, a math teacher. “Instead of a top-down approach, he let it be bottom up and teachers felt they had a real stake.”

Despite its rise in graduation rates, Passaic High School has a long way to go to end state intervention. And getting a New Jersey diploma means only so much: Education Commissioner Chris Cerf wants to toughen exit requirements because too many graduates can’t handle college work.

Consider this: Only 7 percent of Passaic High School seniors in 2012 scored 1550 out of 2400 points on the SAT – the benchmark for likely success in college.

Back at the crowded credit recovery lab, Vargas said she hoped to be the first in her family to graduate from high school, and even head to Bergen Community College. “I work better under pressure,” she said.

NJ Spotlight - NJASK Updated As Part of Ongoing Transition to Common Core…Revised middle-school math exams alter profile of what students need to know in grades 6 to 8

John Mooney | January 8, 2014

 

The move to online testing in 2015 may have grabbed most of the attention, but the state's NJASK exams will also be seeing some more changes this spring, as the current elementary and middle school tests are brought into line with the Common Core State Standards.

The state has already started the phase-in of the new national standards, revising NJASK’s grades 3-8 language arts and grades 3-5 math sections. But it left intact the grades 6-8 math exams while the younger students had the necessary instruction.

Now it's the turn of the middle-school math tests. Some content areas will be moved entirely to different grades. Ratios and relationships, for example, will be addressed in grades 6 and 7; mathematical functions more heavily weighted in grade 8.

“The idea was that the scaffolding of content was special for math, so we staged that implementation,” said Bari Erlichson, assistant education commissioner in charge of the testing.

“In 2014, we are finishing that transition,” she said. “NJASK will now be fully aligned.”

The NJASK transition is the last step before the state moves to a whole new battery of exam in the 2014-2015 school year, all to be administered online. Known as the PARCC tests, for the national consortium that developed them, those will be built around the Common Core standards. The state will be field testing the PARCC exams this spring in more than 1,200 schools.

Although it may not seem as daunting as the full move to the Common Core, the NJASK transition has been a source of uncertainty and angst for educators, since the content of the tests has gradually shifted without some districts adjusting their curriculum accordingly -- at least not yet.

The tests have high stakes for schools, students and teachers. This is the first year that student progress on state tests will be used in the evaluation of language arts and math teachers.

The guidelines for the 2014 tests were presented to district testing coordinators through both face-to-face meetings over the past three months and its accompanying presentation. They offer a rare public glimpse into the tests that have garnered so much attention and debate through the years.

As the presentation indicates, the biggest changes are in the middle-school math tests -- understandably so, given that no changes have been made to date. State officials said they would not necessarily be wholesale changes, since the state’s previous Core Curriculum Content Standards have many similarities with the Common Core. But the latter are more demanding in terms of mathematical skills.

The state’s presentation included a number of examples from the new exams, as well as guidelines for the use of calculators and other tools like protractors and rulers. It lists the frameworks and time limits on all sections of the tests as well.

Middle-school math has historically seen the state’s lowest rates of proficiency on the state exams, with just 64 percent of seventh graders passing last year and 69 percent of eighth graders.

The language arts sections will continue to see some adjustments as well. The most significant one up to now has been the greater emphasis on having students write on topics using evidence from provided texts or other media.

“There are no major shifts this year [in language arts], but there will be continued expectations around things like text-dependency in writing and the use of academic language,” said Erlichson.

The one constant remains the state’s science test, now given in just grades 4 and 8. Since there are no Common Core standards yet approved for science, the NJASK science tests will remain as they are -- at least for another year.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828