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4-11-12 Assembly Budget to hear Department of Education on FY'14 Proposed State Budget Today
NJ Spotlight -Early Look at OLS Report Reveals Many Districts Will See Net Loss in State Money…On eve of budget hearing, increased debt service on school construction grants blunts Christie’s funding promises

NJ Spotlight - Interactive Map: Elementary and Middle School Student Growth Measures

Star Ledger - N.J. school chiefs take issue with 'peer group' rankings in revamped reports“…While superintendents largely said they welcome the new information, many took issue with the state’s use of data to compare schools with "peers" deemed similar based on levels of students’ poverty and special needs. In some cases, schools with nearly identical test scores, in the same peer groups, have wildly different percentile ranks… "

NJ Spotlight -Early Look at OLS Report Reveals Many Districts Will See Net Loss in State Money…On eve of budget hearing, increased debt service on school construction grants blunts Christie’s funding promises

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By John Mooney, April 11, 2013 in Education |1 Comment

 

Under Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget, almost half of New Jersey school districts will see a net loss in the amount they receive from the state next year, according to a new legislative analysis.

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The main culprit is the extra bill for debt service on school construction grants, said the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services in its annual analysis of the governor's proposed $13.3 billion education budget.

Factoring in that money, it found that about 270 districts -- or 48 percent -- will see net losses ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $200,000 in Barnegat and East Brunswick.

Others on average will see about a 10 percent reduction in their publicized increases in direct formula aid, according to the report. The local assessments for the grants from the Schools Development Authority are rising from $21 million to $34 million next year, more than 60 percent.

NJ Spotlight obtained an advanced copy of the OLS report on the eve of today's Assembly Budget Committee meeting, which will center on Christie’s education spending for next year. State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is slated to testify, as is SDA executive director Marc Larkins.

The OLS analysis raises a number of the hot issues sure to be debated -- or argued over -- in the budget hearings. The SDA assessments already have the districts churning, but the agency's assessment also trains the spotlight on planned spending on controversial programs liked charter schools and the school vouchers pilot.

Concerning the latter, the state Department of Education offers the first details of the planned $2 million pilot, including how the department is starting to set up the program for launch by next fall.

Under Christie’s plans, 200 low-income students attending low-performing schools could receive “scholarships” of up to $10,000 to attend outside schools, public or private. However small, it would be the state’s first school voucher program after years, if not decades, of heated debate.

But with little time between the final passage of the budget in June and the proposed pilot launch in September, the department said it has started to vet the private schools that would be eligible to create an application process that would screen students for income and need.

“In order to be ready to receive and process student applications and enroll students for the fall, should the program be established by the appropriations act, the NJDOE is beginning to develop [it],” the department wrote.

Meanwhile, the debt service assessments on districts for construction grants has already been a bone of contention for school administrators and some legislators -- especially in light of Christie’s election-year pronouncements that no districts would see a loss in aid under his spending plan. The budget calls for an overall increase in state aid of $97.3 million, to more than $7.9 billion.

Yesterday, Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts reiterated previous responses that the assessments are not part of state aid that the governor was alluding to. And he said assessments have been in place since 2011, with the increases due to ongoing refinancing on the construction bonds.

“Any attempt to suggest that aid has been reduced is misinformation, per the above $97.3 million overall increase,” Roberts said in an email to reporters this week. “Districts are, however, required to pay their small share of these projects they requested to have.”

Whatever the arguments, the OLS report puts the first numbers to individual school districts, broken down by each senator and assembly member’s legislative districts.

And it could prove uncomfortable for Christie’s aid plan, especially in some suburban districts represented by fellow Republicans. Some of the hardest-hit counties are Bergen and Morris, while fewer South Jersey communities are seeing net losses due to the SDA assessments.

NJ Spotlight - Interactive Map: Elementary and Middle School Student Growth Measures

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By Colleen O'Dea and John Mooney, April 11, 2013 in Education |Post a Comment

Map Data

Map data ©2013 Google

Welcome to the new math that will calculate how New Jersey’s public schools are going to be publicly judged and measured. And beware, it’s going to take some getting used to.

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The Christie administration yesterday finally released its “School Performance Reports” for 2011-2012, a new version of the long-running School Reports Cards that have been an annual spring rite since the mid-1990s.

And while the new reports use many of the same sources of data as years past, they add a layer of interpretation as to what the data means -- at least as the Christie administration sees it.

Does a school match up to its counterparts? Are students gaining on their peers? Which schools are hitting their state-defined targets? Are students on track to be “college and career ready” -- starting in elementary school?

The state’s new multipage and color-coded report for every school – 15 pages for elementary schools, 11 for high schools -- seeks to answer a few of those questions, relying on a series of new tools and methods.

For the first time, for example, elementary and middle schools are being judged not only on overall proficiency on the state’s language arts and math NJASK tests, but also using the new “student growth percentiles” (SGP).

In short, the median SGP looks at how the typical student in a school is improving or not from one year to the next -- in comparison with other students at similar achievement levels statewide. (And get used to that term: Regardless of how controversial the student SGP is, the tool will soon be used to measure teacher effectiveness as well.)

The state’s minimum target for schools is a median SGP above 35 percent -- or higher than two-thirds of the comparable group.

But a general measure of success is anything above 50 percent. To put that in perspective, only 5 percent of schools are even above 65 percent. They include a few unexpected ones, too.

For instance, while most of the very top fliers in median SGP are still among the more affluent or at least suburban communities, the very highest is Lodi’s Columbus School, with a median SGP of 81.5 in language arts and 77 in math.

Also in the Top Five is a Newark charter school that doesn’t always get much attention, the Discovery Charter School.

But the SGP is only the beginning. The state has provided a breadth of data in individual reports for schools, including peer comparisons.

In almost every case, a school will be matched up against 30 schools with similar demographics, factoring in the percentage of low-income students, those with limited English skills, and those with disabilities. So even a school that does well statewide may not fare as well against other similar schools.

None of this is without questions, and a few complaints.

The state is a few months later than usual providing the report, in part due to a lengthy period of review and revisions to correct errors in either what districts submitted or what was computed. And initially there were many errors, the department confirmed as much, and a few surely remain from early reports.

In addition, questions have been raised as to how the peer groupings were tabulated, with the state going so far as to provide a white paper to explain its methods.

The 16-page interpretive guide for the performance reports is longer than the reports themselves. All told, it’s a lot to grapple with, but state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and his department maintain it will give a fuller picture to families and communities about how their about how schools are doing and how they can improve.

"If you give this information to the schools, they will use it to get better," Cerf said this week.

"If the ultimate goal of this is to measure how we get kids ready for the next phase of life,” he added, “this gives parents the opportunity to raise real questions."

View Interactive Map of high school SAT scores.

Star Ledger - N.J. school chiefs take issue with 'peer group' rankings in revamped reportsThe Star-Ledger “…While superintendents largely said they welcome the new information, many took issue with the state’s use of data to compare schools with "peers" deemed similar based on levels of students’ poverty and special needs. In some cases, schools with nearly identical test scores, in the same peer groups, have wildly different percentile ranks… "


on April 11, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated April 11, 2013 at 7:01 AM

By Jeanette Rundquist and Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger

TRENTON — The state shook up the New Jersey education world Wednesday.

The Department of Education released new multi-page "School Performance Reports," that provide an analysis of the state’s schools in detail never before seen. The reports look at the percentage of middle school kids chronically absent; the percentage that took algebra in middle school; and the percentage of high school graduates still in college or other secondary education 16 months after the grads tossed their caps in the air at commencement

All of those are said to be factors in determining how well kids will fare in college or careers.

But the biggest bombshell may have been a new concept called "peer group ranking." For the first time, the state is comparing each school with about 30 others deemed to be demographically similar.

Not everyone was ready for new the report cards.

While superintendents largely said they welcome the new information, many took issue with the state’s use of data to compare schools with "peers" deemed similar based on levels of students’ poverty and special needs. In some cases, schools with nearly identical test scores, in the same peer groups, have wildly different percentile ranks.

"The problems are pervasive throughout the report," said Paul Pineiro, Westfield’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and programs. "These reports are designed to inform parents about how well the public schools are serving their children, and all of the new indicators listed are important and strong, but the ranking methodology is questionable."

The new reports, which replace the old state "school report cards," were more than a year in the making. They are intended to "fully and transparently categorize schools" and identify those that need support or deserve recognition, according to the state Department of Education.

"Every school in New Jersey has some area that needs improvement," read a document released by the state, along with the data on more than 2,000 New Jersey schools. "The performance reports … will assist every school in taking the next step."

The state also released school spending information, showing the average spending per pupil rose from $17,322 in 2010-11, to $18,047 in 2011-12.

The new reports — and the peer groupings — brought surprises for some schools that have the reputation of being at the top of the academic heap.

Millburn High School, long considered one of New Jersey’s leading schools, scored a more modest ranking for academic achievement — in the 68th percentile — when compared with the 30 similar schools in its "peer group ranking," according to the reports. Compared statewide, it was in the 83rd percentile.

Millburn Superintendent James Crisfield said he was initially concerned about the high school showing in the 68th percentile for "academic achievement," until he saw that the mark was based only on the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment and biology test results. He said in Millburn — a school where about 10 percent of the current senior class of 400 is headed to Ivy League colleges — students don’t take those state tests very seriously.

"The measures they use are the wrong measures for high-achieving schools . There’s lots of other things, SAT scores, AP scores, that are better mesaures," he said. "If they’re trying to get at some things that are important — we want the state’s high school seniors to do as well as they can in either college or career — why don’t we do something to make that happen rather than start comparing schools?"

Metuchen Superintendent Vincent Caputo said the new performance reports are an improvement over the old school report cards state officials had released in the past, but said the peer group rankings will be a "big change" requiring adjustment.

At Metuchen High School, 94 percent of students passed the language arts section of the High School Proficiency Assessment, yet the school ranked in the sixth percentile on that measure compared with other schools in its peer group.

"We have a very educated community," Caputo said. "I think they’ll look at the first page of the report and see our academic achievement peer rank, but then they’ll dig deeper and see that Metuchen schools are doing well."

South Brunswick High School is among the roughly 30 schools in Metuchen High School’s peer group. Ninety eight percent of students there passed the language arts section of the High School Proficiency Assessment, but it’s percentile rank within the peer group is much higher than Metuchen.

Some school officials also criicized the state’s method of calculating a school’s academic achievement peer rank, which required averaging two averages — taking an average of schools’ percentile ranks among their peers in language arts and their percentile ranks for math.

The peer group rankings replace the old "District Factor Groups" that educators have used since 1975, which placed all school districts in groups — labeled "A" through "J" — according to factors such as income, education level and occupational status of the adults. The state says the new peer groups , which are based on the percentage of kids who get free and reduced lunch, plus the percentage in special education and with limited English proficiency, are better because they more accurately reflect the students in the schools . They also measure data school-by-school, instead of district-by-district.

The new peer groups, which are unique for every school, can also be readjusted every year, while the former DFGs were recalculated about every 10 years, based on Census data.

Schools in each group of 30 can be anywhere in the state, in places where parents may know little about the other schools, so it may make comparing difficult.

Mountain Lakes High School, in Morris County, and Moorestown High School, in Burlington County, are in the same peer group , for example.

In Chatham, Superintendent Michael LaSusa said he’s pleased his district’s residents will have more data available to them, but he took issue with the accuracy of some parts of the new reports. For example, his district has three K-3 elementary schools, yet each school wound up in a different peer group.

"Communities 100 miles away from Chatham seem to have schools with characteristics that align more closely to our schools that other schools within the district that are half a mile down the road from one another."

Star-Ledger staff writer Frederick Kaimann contributed to this report.

 

 


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



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