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2-2-12 Education in the News - Test Results...differing perspectives
Star Ledger - Despite aid cuts, N.J. students improved test scores in 2010-11 school year… “New Jersey's public school students racked up slightly higher test scores in most grades in the 2010-11 school year, despite Gov. Chris Christie's cutting about $1 billion in state aid to schools that year, according to standardized test results released today by the state Board of Education…”

NJ Spotlight - State Test Scores Reveal Some Gains, Widening Achievement Gap…Budget cuts cost New Jersey school districts $1 billion, with some of the poorest districts paying the biggest price

Press of Atlantic City – Students' test scores divided by socio-economic gap in New Jersey… “…Suburban districts are working to address the special needs of low-income students. Galloway Township Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said the district is encouraging more low-income students to come in for breakfast because it can lead to better academic performance. Anderson said it takes a lot of extra programs to compensate for the effects of poverty…”

Star Ledger - Despite aid cuts, N.J. students improved test scores in 2010-11 school year… “New Jersey's public school students racked up slightly higher test scores in most grades in the 2010-11 school year, despite Gov. Chris Christie's cutting about $1 billion in state aid to schools that year, according to standardized test results released today by the state Board of Education…”

Published: Wed, February 01, 2012, 12:00 PM Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2012, 12:38 PM

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-Ledger

The Star-Ledger
TRENTON — New Jersey's public school students racked up slightly higher test scores in most grades in the 2010-11 school year, despite Gov. Chris Christie's cutting about $1 billion in state aid to schools that year, according to standardized test results released today by the state Board of Education.

Students posted slightly higher test stores in math and language arts in most grades, from 3 through 8, and in high school. In science, however, a subject in which students are tested only in fourth and eighth grades, scores dropped.

Many schools experienced cuts in staff and other areas in 2010-11, due to the steep drop in state aid. But results of the NJASK tests, given in grade school, and the High School Proficiency Assessment showed most weathered the storm.

"The year that generated that cut, actually turned out to be a year where we had decent student (achievement)," said Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf, cautioning "I don't want to leave you with the impression that means we can cut more. I don't think that's a good idea."

Christie, in fact, returned some of the money to schools the following year.

RELATED COVERAGE:

National test results show N.J. fourth and eighth-graders rank second-highest overall in reading nationwide

N.J. standardized test scores show achievement gap remains significant

Report shows fourth-grade students in N.J. public, charter schools have same passing rates

The state each year releases data from tests taken the previous spring, as a snapshot of how New Jersey's students are learning. In high school, scores showed steady progress up. The percentage of students passing language arts rose from 94.3 in 2010 to 96.1 percent in 2011, and the math passing rate went from 82.8 to 83.6. A new high school biology test also showed improvement.

The scores are for students in the "general population," and do not include special education students or those with limited English proficiency.

In the younger grades, most improved or held steady. Fourth-graders' passing rate went from 82.5 percent, to 84.4 percent in math; and from 66.9 to 70.0 percent in language arts — bouncing back up after a drop there, the previous year.

Eighth-graders rose in math, from 77.4 to 80.4 percent proficient. In language arts, eighth-graders fell slightly, from 90.6 percent to 90.1 percent.

Science was the spoiler in each of those grade levels. The eighth-grade passing rate fell from 89.8 to 88.4 percent in science, and the fourth grade proficiency rate dropped from 96.0 to 93.8. Cerf pointed out that in science, the scores were very high to begin with, however.

Cerf said despite the overall positive year, the state needs to do more. The achievement gap, between poor and wealthier students, or between students of different minority groups, remains "extremely large," he said. Numerous reform efforts are under way to address it.

"In some cases it is expanding and in some cases narrowing, but in all cases, it remains large," Cerf said. ""We are not fulfilling the basic purpose of public education."


To Find all the scores for your school and grade go to nj.com, click on ‘education’ for this article

NJ Spotlight - State Test Scores Reveal Some Gains, Widening Achievement Gap…Budget cuts cost New Jersey school districts $1 billion, with some of the poorest districts paying the biggest price

By John Mooney, February 2, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

 

[Note: for series of graphs on test scores, go to njspotlight.com an click on this article]

The annual release of New Jersey school test scores can be maddening in its mixed messages.

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On the one hand, the 2010-2011 scores released yesterday rose slightly or at least held steady overall in a majority of grades, a good thing for what have been tough times. In math, there were some notable gains for any given year.

On the other, state officials are quick to point out that the gaps in achievement between rich and poor, white and minority, are wide and in some instances widening alarmingly.

Those results are unsurprising, insofar as they reflect nationwide trends. But the findings have taken on added weight under Gov. Chris Christie and his education reform agenda, much of it aimed at districts where the achievement is lowest.

How the numbers all add up is still to be determined, but there were lessons to be learned at yesterday's state Board of Education's meeting, as well as considerable talk as to what lies ahead.

Lesson No. 1: In tough times, New Jersey kids rose to the challenge

The 2010-2011 school year was no joy ride.

Not only was the state still gripped by the Great Recession -- putting enormous pressure on schools and families -- but also districts lost close to $1 billion in state aid, forcing cuts and layoffs at a level previously unseen. A report by the New York Federal Reserve Bank, released yesterday, found some of the steepest cuts in some of the state's poorest districts.

Given that situation, it wouldn’t have been a big surprise if overall achievement levels had dropped. They didn't

Compiling all student scores in math and language arts for the first time revealed that 89.6 percent of high school students passed the state's math test on the first try, while 75 percent did the same for language arts. Those percentages show small but significant increases on tests that typically don't show much change.

In the elementary and middle schools, 75 percent passed math on the first try; 66 percent passed language arts. Those results remain largely unchanged, but individual grades showed some promise. Reading scores rose in the critical third and fourth grades, but dropped in Grades 7 and 8. It was better news in math, where there were consistent gains.

"At all grade levels, we are seeing positive and significant increases," said assistant commissioner Bari Erlichson, who presented the findings.

The one real blemish on the overall scores? The results for the state's science exams, long seen as the easiest of the tests, with passing rates typically in the 80th and 90th percentiles. This time out, fourth grade results fell from 93 percent to 90 percent; in the eighth grade, they dropped from 83 percent to 81 percent.

The state's new high-school biology test, once seen as a possible graduation requirement but on hold for that purpose, saw a slight gain in 2011, but only 57 percent of students passed overall.

Lesson No. 2: Where the numbers get troubling -- and complicated

For every encouraging result, though, there is troubling evidence of children left behind, and in some cases falling even further behind.

Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf is adamant in highlighting the gaping chasm between low-income students and those not at an economic disadvantage -- rather than between white and Asian students vs. black and Hispanic.

In elementary school language arts, for instance, the gap between low-income students and everyone else is close to 30 percentage points, up from 26 points seven years ago. Among third graders in the state's poorest districts, barely 40 percent passed the state's reading and writing test.

"The bottom line is the achievement gap is wide throughout the state," said Arcelio Aponte, the state board's president. "Although maybe trending up in some cases, it's still a 30 percent gap. How could anyone find that acceptable?"

But there were some interesting exceptions, most noticeably in the high schools. In the last decade, the gap in language arts between low-income students and their peers has been nearly cut in half, to 12 points. A similar trend is evident between white and students as well.

With those gains come caveats. The High School Proficiency Assessment, the state's longest-running test, is drawing increasing criticism for not being very rigorous. State officials also pointed out that there is a "ceiling effect," in which wealthier students are passing at rates of 90 percent or above, limiting how much higher they can go.

Still, the test remains the standard that schools have followed for the past decade, and any sizable closing of the achievement gaps is reason for at least guarded optimism.

David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center in Newark and frequent antagonist of the Christie administration, said the high school trends were worth noting.

"There is no question there have been slow and steady increases, and this is another sign," he said. "But we also need a broader solution. We take these in a cautious and positive vein, but only redouble our efforts."

Lesson No. 3: The solutions are just as complicated

In announcing the 2011 scores yesterday, Cerf said the wide gaps continued to serve as justification for Christie's reform agenda, controversial as it may be. That includes new teacher evaluations, reforms of tenure rules, tough new measures for low-performing schools, and more school choices for parents.

"During the past year, we have begun to put in place a number of reforms that will not only help our lowest-performing students, but that will help all New Jersey students continuously improve," Cerf said in a statement releasing the scores.

"Education reform is not a zero-sum game," he said. "We can all improve to make sure every child is truly ready for the demands of the 21st century."

But just as these gaps have longstanding histories, the administration's proposed solutions are hardly quick fixes. Further, solving the problems may only get harder as the tests themselves change in coming years under the Common Core State Standards.

Bookending the presentation of the scores, other administration officials yesterday presented updates on the teacher evaluation pilot in 11 districts and also the phase-in of the Common Core standards, including a model state curriculum for low-performing districts to potentially adopt.

The pilot has started slowly, with just half of the districts completing training, but officials said they were encouraged it will start in earnest this spring. The model curriculum will come by summer, officials said, but that is only the start.

"Having a wonderful curriculum is not enough to raise student achievement," said Penny MacCormack, the state's assistant commissioner in charge of the project. "We need to make sure that teachers understand effective practices."

State board member Dorothy Strickland is an expert in literacy instruction, a Rutgers professor, and member of a national panel helping devise new tests to match the Common Core.

Speaking after the meeting, she said that for all the worries about lagging scores now, once new tests are introduced, "It's going to get scary."

"It's only going to be more challenging because there will be a lot more focus on critical thinking and problem solving," she said.

Strickland said she does worry for students who are struggling to pass state tests now only to see more obstacles in their way. Still, she said there is little choice but to improve the standards and tests, and also the teaching that will be required.

"This will only work if people see the interconnections, and see how all these are interrelated," she said.

 

Press of Atlantic City – Students' test scores divided by socio-economic gap in New Jersey

Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2012 1:00 am | Updated: 6:30 am, Thu Feb 2, 2012.

Three miles separate Crest Memorial School in Wildwood Crest from Glenwood Avenue Elementary School in neighboring Wildwood, but the makeup of the two schools, and their state test scores, are very different.

More than 90 percent of the fourth-graders passed the state language arts test at Crest Memorial in 2011, while only 30 percent of the Wildwood students passed, according to annual state test results released by the state Department of Education on Wednesday. In math, 45 percent of fourth-graders passed in Wildwood; 96 percent passed at Crest Memorial.

Click here to view the full report.

Dennis Anderson is superintendent of schools for both districts, and he knows the staff and curriculum offer students the same educational opportunities. But the students themselves are very different. Wildwood has the highest percentage of poor school-age children in the state, the U.S. census says. Wildwood Crest is a far more stable family community.

“There is no debate that there is a direct correlation between socio-economics and academic performance,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of ground to make up in Wildwood.”

That so-called achievement gap between more-affluent students and their low-income and minority counterparts is at the heart of state efforts to improve academic performance, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said Wednesday.

“It is a disgraceful legacy in New Jersey that leaves tens of thousands of students behind each year, and has for decades,” Cerf said. “We must be honest with ourselves and our communities about this achievement gap and be impatient and relentless in doing everything we can to close it once and for all.”

Part of that honesty, said Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra, is acknowledging that while the gap is more obvious in urban schools, the problem is statewide. Data show that low-income students struggle to pass state tests even if they attend school in the state’s wealthiest districts.

“More than half of all disadvantaged students live outside the urban districts,” Sciarra said. “The state tends to want to make this look like an urban problem. But we need to move away from the urban failure narrative. We need to support all of our schools.”

Statewide, almost 4 of every 10 elementary-school students in New Jersey are not reading at their grade level, according to the 2011 test results. Students do better in math, with almost 8 of 10 students in grades three though six passing the test. Fourth-graders also perform well in science, with a 90 percent passing rate on the state test. Test results for 2011 were relatively consistent with 2010.

The state has raised the minimum passing score on some tests, so results do not necessarily correlate across the grades. Student performance improved in eighth grade with 82 percent of students passing the language arts test and 71 percent passing math. In high school, 90 percent of high school juniors passed the High School Proficiency Assessment in language arts, and 75 percent passed math.

The language arts performance gap is influenced by students whose first language is not English.

Sciarra said it is important to identify and recognize successes and use them to help all schools improve.

Locally there are some bright spots in both urban and suburban schools.

Chelsea Heights School in Atlantic City continued its streak of high performance, with 100 percent of fourth-graders passing both the math and science tests and solid performance among other grades.

Every fourth-grader passed the science test in at the Ross School in Margate, Mullica Township Primary School, Cape May Elementary School, Margaret Mace School in North Wildwood, Wilwood Crest Memorial, Downe Township School and the Dunfee and Horbelt schools in Barnegat Township.

At the Belhaven School in Linwood 100 percent of the eighth-graders passed the language arts test. In Port Republic and at Crest Memorial every eighth-grader passed the science test.

Atlantic City assistant superintendent Donna Haye said Chelsea Heights has a solid core of teachers and families and once students start succeeding they can carry that success through the grades, a goal they have for every school. But, she said, the environment surrounding students can affect their education.

“We are seeing (performance) growth in all of the schools,” she said. “We try to make the schools a safe haven for students and show them that education is a way out (of poverty).”

Suburban districts are working to address the special needs of low-income students. Galloway Township Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said the district is encouraging more low-income students to come in for breakfast because it can lead to better academic performance.

Anderson said it takes a lot of extra programs to compensate for the effects of poverty. Wildwood has a full-day preschool program to give children a head start on academic success. Every child at the Glenwood Avenue Elementary School gets free breakfast — almost 90 percent qualify as low-income for the free meal program. The Homework Club meets daily after school. The middle school added an extra period of math and language arts to the daily schedule.

A major hurdle is family mobility — about a third of the students in Wildwood move within a year.

“The best thing would be if they would just come here and stay,”Anderson said. “When they do, they are successful. These are great kids. They deserve a shot at success.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:   609-272-7241   DDamico@pressofac.com

 

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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609-394-2828