CAMDEN, NJ— Over 500 more Camden City students have scored proficient on the statewide PARCC exam, increasing combined district and renaissance scores for a third year in a row.
However, while the scores — which have tripled in grades three through eight since 2014 — show much-needed progress in the district, it still has a long way to go, said Acting Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs.
McCombs announced the school district’s PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, exam scores for both district and Renaissance schools Tuesday morning at Uncommon Schools Camden Prep.
“I’m proud to share our modest — I underscore modest because we have not yet arrived — but significant progress,” McCombs said.
In the 2014-2015 school year, only 6.5 percent of students in grades three through eight from district and Renaissance schools were proficient in English language arts; only 4.3 percent proficient in math.
For the 2017-2018 school year, when looking at the combined scores of students in grades three through eight from both district and renaissance schools, 18 percent scored proficient in English language arts, up from 16 percent last year. In math, a combined 13 percent of students scored proficient, up from 11 percent last year.
“These gains represent the commitment our families have made to their child’s education and to remaining engaged in their child's schooling,” McCombs said.
The combined scores were both well below the state average, however, where 59 percent of students scored proficient in English language arts and 46 percent scored proficient in math.
“The achievement gap definitely still exists,” McCombs said.
Separated, both district schools and Renaissance schools still showed progress.
In the district’s public schools, English language arts proficiency increased from 12 to 14 percent and math proficiency increased from 9 to 10 percent. Overall, 57 percent of the district’s schools saw increases in student performance.
In the Renaissance schools, which are independently operated public schools that are required to serve the students in its neighborhood, English language arts proficiency increased from 23 percent to 26 percent, and math proficiency increased from 17 to 19 percent.
In one Renaissance school, Uncommon Schools Camden Prep, its students' PARCC scores surpassed the state average in math for the first time, with 52 percent of students scoring proficient, 6 percent higher than the state average. Uncommon's English language scores were also near the state average, with 49 percent scoring proficient.
Natalie Cooper, principal of Uncommon Schools' Camden Prep Mt. Epharim Elementary School, credited the school's success at turning around its students scores — from just 4 percent in English language arts and 3 percent in math tin 2014, the year prior to Uncommon taking over Bonsall Elementary School — to “great teaching, great teaching, great teaching.”
Cooper said that teachers at Uncommon Schools Camden Prep are constantly evaluating how their students learn material through looking at everything from classroom assignments, to homework assignments, to quizzes and tests.
“It's just making sure that every child is really, truly learning and there are dozens of ways that teachers can do that on a daily basis,” Cooper said.
Cooper added that there is an emphasis on differentiated learning, where teachers will split students into small groups to provide them with different paths of instruction based on their grasp of the material.
To close the achievement gap that exists between both the district schools and the state, and between the CCSD schools and its Renaissance school partners, McCombs said it's going to require expanding the partnership between district and Renaissance schools.
“We want to look at all students across, all school types, and see what we can do to so that all students in Camden rise,” McCombs said.
Such partnerships would include expanding joint teacher training opportunities, supporting and innovating enrollment systems and working to establish more opportunities for teachers across school types to share best practices.
“The changes we’ve seen in the landscape of our public schools has certainly been dramatic, but the results we share today are equally as dramatic,” McCombs said. “And demonstrate that we are on the right path to offering Camden families a whole system of great, publicly funded neighborhood schools that are accessible to all students.”
Another critical factor McCombs said that, if improved, will lead to a faster closing of the achievement gap — public school facilities.
“We have 18 traditional public schools in aging facilities that have constant disruption to the educational learning environment due to poor HVAC systems, or many other different facility-related issues that can disrupt learning,” McCombs said.
And, while this year’s PARCC scores are up again for the CCSD, it is unclear how much longer the state exam will be used to measure student achievement. Gov. Phil Murphy ran on the platform of phasing out the test, and has proposed a drastic rollback that reduce the number of PARCC exams in high school from eight to two.
So far, the governor has had no luck in implementing the rollback — at the September state board of education meeting, a vote to pass the changes was tabled at the last second, and last week, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education, Lamont Repollet, appeared before a panel of lawmakers to defend the governor’s proposed changes.
McCombs said that no matter what test the state uses, it is critical for the CCSD, but there should be a “nice balance.”
“We need the assessment data to be able to judge whether or not there’s effective teaching going on, and whether or students are learning,” McCombs said. “But we should very much consider the number of assessments we have.”