WEST ORANGE, NJ - District Testing Coordinator Stephanie Diegmann provided an overview of the NJ Ask and HSPA 2013 test results and district math and language arts supervisors provided additional information at the Board of Education meeting held at West Orange High School.
Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill noted that while NJ Ask and HSPA test scores are useful to assess areas of curriculum in need of improvement, he was firm in his conviction that standardized testing is a "snapshot in time" that does not monitor eventual workplace success. Reminding the public that while the district is being aggressive in responding to test score issues, that they do not fully represent a student's intelligence, ability to learn, or be successful. Many students, O'Neill said, do not test well, and one grade of students could test differently than others.
Diegmann began with a short review on the results of an independent study conducted by Jerseycan.org. This independent organization reviewed statewide test scores in various categories and the following was determined regarding West Orange:
Redwood and St. Cloud were in the Top 10 schools statewide for Black Student Performance.
Gregory, Hazel, Mount Pleasant, Washington, Liberty Middle School and Roosevelt Middle School were in the Top 100 for Black Student Performance.
Mount Pleasant, Redwood and Hazel were in the Top 100 for Latino performance.
Hazel, LMS, and RMS were in the Top 100 for Performance Gains.
A complete listing of test score results for all district schools will be posted on the www.woboe.org by Wednesday morning.
West Orange, considered a "GH" district by the state in its "District Factor Groupings" list along with Springfield, Fairfield, Teaneck and Piscataway, still has the highest percentage of free and reduced lunch students, currently between 33-40%, as compared to 9% in Fairfield. The GH rating is determined by the overall economic standing of the entire community and not the school district itself.
Diegmann shared figures on elementary, Edison Middle School, and the high school (HSPA) scores. Most showed improvement compared to last year, especially in math, though Language Arts were also improved. Edison, named a "Focus Group school" last year due to the criteria comparing subgroupings within the school (last year, approximately ten Asian students at the top of the scoring were compared with all economically disadvantaged students) had enough improvement to move it out of "Focus School" status, but has to perform at the same level for an additional year to be removed.
Darlene Berg, K-5 Math Supervisor, who was criticized in the past regarding Everyday Math III and her qualifications, appeared to be vindicated as NJ Ask Math Scores in the elementary schools exceeded not only previous district, but GH and most statewide scores.
Language Arts District Supervisor Jim Aquaviva and Math 6-12 Supervisor Frank Ianucci, along with Diegmann, provided input on the initiative efforts of the district to improve Math and Language Arts test scores:
Integration of reading into Social Studies, and Science curriculums as well as Integrated Language Arts.
Reading/Writing Workshop for 7-8 graders
7 periods at LMS and RMS, increasing class time from 46 to 55 minutes
Rotating Block schedule at WOHS
Continuing Benchmark Assessment and Midterm testing at the Middle and High School levels
Feeding information into the Performance Matters Data Bank
Increase Advanced Proficiency at LMS and RMS in Math and ILA classes.
On October 17, the district will hold a "Curriculum Night" at EMS that will provide parents with information and assistance on how to help their children with their homework.
Not all residents were happy, however. Susan Freivald, Co-President of PASSE (a Special Needs group in West Orange), questioned why the district eliminated full-year Seventh Grade reading courses and integrated Eighth grade special needs students into World Language Classes. Interim Superintendent O'Neill responded that the traditional year-long middle school Reading courses have not proven successful in raising test scores or student achievement, and that by integrating more reading components in all courses, that students would be more successful. This was also underscored by Jim Aquaviva throughout the evening.
Additionally, O'Neill noted that all but 5 of the 175 special needs Eighth graders were taking a World Language and that studies have shown that taking a World Language actually helps special needs students with Language Arts skills.
In the past few months, PASSE has filed complaints against the school district with the Office of Civil Rights regarding district 504 plans and the New Jersey State Education Department regarding schedule changes at LMS and RMS. While the complaint filed with the NJSDOE has not yet been resolved, the complaint with the OCR has resulted in minor language clarifications in 504 language. The complaints to date have cost the district several thousand dollars in costs.
Board member Laura Lab noted that Connie Salimbeno, Director of Special Services for the District, has been approved by the state to conduct a workshop on Compliance.
In other news, Major Joseph Marchesino of the Jr. ROTC program at WOHS, gave an update on the program and said the first year program is currently full at 53 students 34 males and 19 females, the national norm). By next year, they hope to accommodate 100 students and continue to add courses to their curriculum. Most of their funding comes from the Air Force and a parent's booster club has been formed. While only about 5% go on to enlist in the armed forces, the program focuses on issues of integrity, character and discipline, along with community service.
The meeting was filmed and will be televised on Channels 36/45. Check your local listings.
(Editor's Note: This article was updated on October 9 to clarify language in the article regarding comments made following the district presentation on test scores and during public comment, and to clarify language regarding the complaints filed against the district.)