BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -  The Assessment of Student Performance for 2012-2013 was presented at the Board of Education Meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26 at Columbia Middle School.

“We are going to celebrate the great result and congratulate the students and teachers.  I am proud of what we are showing tonight,” said Assistant Superintendent Patricia Qualshie.

The New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) was administered in May 2013 to New Jersey students in Grades 3-8.  They are tested in Language Arts Literacy, Mathematics and Science (Grades 4 & 8).  The New Jersey  High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) was administered in March 2013 to New Jersey students in Grade 11.  They are tested in Language Arts Literacy and Mathematics. 

The New Jersey Department of Education ranks the school districts in New Jersey by their socioeconomic status.  Berkeley Heights is placed in District Factor Group (DFG)  I.  Neighboring towns included in this group: Mountainside, New Providence, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit, Westfield, Madison, Mendham, Warren and Watchung.  

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The complete assessment presentation can be found on the district website.  According to the historical data provided in the presentation, the results are mostly consistent in grade level performance of the cohort groupings.

Qualshie advised the audience that the NJASK addresses the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts.  The changes are building on the strength of current state standards. The CCSS are designed to be focused, coherent, clear and rigorous, Internationally benchmarked and anchored in college and career readiness.

The key shifts in English Language Arts Literacy is building knowledge through content-rich, language-rich texts including nonfiction and informational texts; reading, writing, speaking, and listening grounded in evidence from text; regular practice with the complex text and its academic vocabulary according to New Jersey Department of Education documentation.

Berkeley Heights results for proficiency is higher than the DFG-I and New Jersey in both Language Arts and Mathematics with the exception to Third Grade Language Arts Literacy and Seventh Grade Mathematics falling slightly below the DFG-I scores. 

Board Member MaryAnn Walsh commented, “The presentation is incredibly thorough.  With excellent scores, really nice results.”  She questioned the Third Grade Literacy assessment of 77.8 percent total proficient score falling below the DFG-I total proficient score of 82.8 percent.  This Third Grade Literacy statistic dropped significantly from the 2012 total proficient score of 86.8 percent.  

Qualshie replied, “I don’t believe it was due to the students not knowing the material. Reading is moving in the right direction.  The format of NJASK could be the big difference. The type of comprehension questions at the elementary level is set at a higher level of thinking.” 

Qualshie pointed out the difference between the 77.8 percent Berkeley Heights Proficient level and the 82.8 percent DFG-I proficient level represents 5 children scoring slightly below the proficient level.  In some instances, the student missed the proficient level by one point.

Board Member Doug Reinstein asked why a higher percentage of students perform at the advanced proficient level in math compared to language arts.   “Math is so different than language arts, with the many pieces of writing to benchmark and assess. The district has never seen a perfect 300 score in language arts.  There are tremendous pieces in English that doesn't translate in the language arts test scores,” answered Woodruff Principal Patricia Gasparini.  Hughes Principal Jessica Nardi added that they are looking for the same answers to why the language arts advanced proficient scores are not as high as math. 

Cheryl Harris asked the administration how accurate the test scores compare to academic grades. “The test scores are one indicator. Students in advanced classes in math do very well on the assessment. The tests are not as good of an indicator for mid level students, resulting in full range of scores.  It could depend on the child’s day. “ said Columbia Principal Frank Geiger.   Mountain Park Principal Jon Morisseau added, “Students that do their homework and work hard for their grades, their abilities may not show on the standardized test.  We see surprises.  Some students struggle in expressing themselves.  Taking this test can be more difficult than being in class.”  

There is no pattern to which elementary school performs at a higher level.  "Depending on the year, the NJASK test scores have bounced around at the three elementary schools," said Qualshie.  

There was a slight increase in number of Gov. Livingston students taking AP tests In 2012-2013. Qualshie reported, 85 percent of Gov. Livingston students taking the test had a score of 3 or above. Five is the top score in the AP tests. 

The presentation stated Gov. Livingston had 206 students take AP level classes sitting for 530 AP tests.  Gov. Livingston Principal Scott McKinney  remarked, “The calculus results were stellar, there were struggles and challenges in world languages.  Contrary to the HESPA, we receive detailed data with the AP scores."  This feedback is utilized to target areas of improvement in learning.

Superintendent Judith Rattner advised the room that 94% of Governor Livingston seniors take the SAT test which is substantially higher than the 78% National average. The large number of students taking the tests widens the range of abilities, impacting the scores.  The number of senior taking the ACT test has increased to 148 students. 

“We are a good district, but we are always looking to improve,” said Qualshie.  The district provides resources for classroom progress through reading specialists, instructional review in language arts and math, special education and English language learners(ELL). Teachers attend professional development seminars in reading, math common core curriculum, project base learning, in-service training, iPad workshops, and a technology coach offers classes during lunch. 

Teachers will spend time in the classroom writing in all disciplines, reading non fiction and cold reads of passages students have never seen. The administration also responded to an inquiry made by Board Member Denis Smalley regarding improving vocabulary scores. "We are rewriting lists for content use of academic vocabulary, including key SAT vocabulary."

The math curriculum guides are being rewritten and recommendations have been made to cover the gap between the Every Day Math and the new common core state standards in Go Math.

Qualshie concluded that the assessments are one piece to the overall education achievement.  Additional pieces to include in gaging student's achievements:  happiness, well rounded, confident, sports, music, drama, student council and student awards. "I can’t believe what these kids are doing. How well the students are prepared for college, I am pleased at our successes.”

In other news at Thursday’s Board of Education session:

  • Victoria Piatnochka and Jimmy Longo, Gov. Livingston Board of Education Student Representatives reported that students are adjusting to school with seniors completing their college application process and sophomores and juniors preparing for PSAT testing.  Gov. Livingston sports are in full swing.  Girls and Boys soccer teams have winning records.  Football is under the lights on Friday night and the fans will show their spirit by wearing white. 
  • There was a Club Expo on Friday, Sept. 27 for students to learn about clubs offered at the school and sign-up to participate.
  • School boards are working together on proposed rules for administration and teacher evaluations.  TEACH-NJ has been adopted into legislature.  This new set of rules evaluate teachers based on student performance, including, for the first time, standardized test scores.  The rubric for evaluation will be posted on the district website.
  • Selected middle school teachers received a grant to participate in the NJ Partnership for Excellence in Middle School Mathematics program.  This intense program provides seven graduate courses at Rutgers University over two years applicable to:  Master’s Degree in Mathematics Education and Middle Grades Mathematics Specialization Endorsement.
  • The PARCC field test will be administered to a sample of students in selected schools to identify whether students, from grade 3 through high school, are on track for postsecondary success and where gaps may exist and how they can be addressed well before students enter college or the workplace. 
  • Superintendent Judy Rattner stated that the Superintendent Chats at the schools' PTO meetings have been posted on the school and district websites.
  • The engineering energy audit has been completed.  Analysis and recommendations for improvements will be forthcoming in six to eight weeks.
  • Board President Helen Kirsch congratulated and commended Sue Johnson as an Honoree at the upcoming Good Scout Awards Dinner on October 2.  "The district has benefited from the fruit of her labor and I congratulate you on recognition.  It is well deserved."