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LIVINGSTON, NJ – The results of the 2019 New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA)—administered to Livingston students in grades 3 through 10 in the spring—revealed that, across the board, Livingston Public Schools (LPS) students significantly outperform those in other districts throughout the state.

Natalie Topylko, LPS Director of Curriculum & Instruction-STEM and Testing, delivered the analysis of this year’s scores as well as a longitudinal look back at how LPS student results have trended over the past five years during Monday’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting.

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“We are in a really successful, high-achieving district,” said Dr. Matthew Block, Superintendent of Schools. “You should be very proud of the scores you’re going to see.”

Topylko explained that in 2015, the district began participating in the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing process. According to Topylko, the test was designed to offer a standardized measurement of students’ mastery of English Language Arts (ELA), literacy and mathematics concepts and also took up the bulk of multiple days to administer.

In 2019, the test was revamped, shortened by approximately 25 percent and relaunched as the NJSLA. Under the new structure, students in grades 3 through 10 are tested in ELA and literacy, and students in grades 3 through 8 are tested in mathematics (including course-end assessments in Algebras I and II and Geometry). Both the ELA 10 and Algebra 1 portions are high school graduation requirements, according to Topylko.

She explained that central office administrators, principals, supervisors and teachers worked collaboratively in groups to analyze the data it in order to understand what happened in the current year, how performance has changed year-over-year and how particular grades, or “cohorts,” perform over a period of time.

“What emerges from the analysis are action plans which impact the professional development we offer to teachers and informs our curriculum,” said Topylko.

Although testing participation remains optional, Topylko said participation is strongly encouraged. According to Topylko, the district’s concerted effort to increasing participation levels has recently paid of, as the average participation rate has jumped from 67 percent in 2014-2015 to 99 percent in 2018-2019.

Students who received “met or exceeded expectation” scores in ELA tended to be 25-to 32-percent above the state average, with Livingston students performing in the 80-to 90-percent ranges while the state averages hovered around 50- to 60-percent.

Similarly, LPS students performed anywhere from 25-to 43-percent better than other New Jersey students in all grade levels in the area of mathematics. However, Topylko added that these district scores were more varied by grade level and ranged anywhere from the 50th percentile for those in grade 8 to the 80th percentile for those in grade 3.

In comparing year-over-year averages within the district, performance for all grade levels remained relatively constant, according to Topylko—varying by only a few percentage points up or down from this year to last. 

“If, when you look at the cohorts, you follow all the way through the grade levels, you can see the efforts that have been made in order to inform the curriculum with rigorous problems, various texts, multimedia clips and delivery of information through various media to align very closely with the student learning standards,” said Topylko. “This cohort analysis has been a real catalyst for us.

“What has happened in our evaluation of strengths and gaps is that we have identified additional materials that have been needed in professional development in all grade levels and a new math series that has been put into place in grades K and 1, where we are building a stronger foundation on which to grow. This data has also prompted the hiring of interventionalists.”

Additionally, according to Topylko, the district’s NJSLA scores point to a need for improvement in the following areas:

  • A need to give students the proper ELA and mathematics vocabulary to enable them to effectively communicate their understanding of concepts;
  • A need to benchmark data teachers that can use in real time to target instruction and marry it to student needs; and
  • Increased use of multimedia items, media clips, graphs and charts to teach students how to interpret subject matter material through multiple lenses.

At the conclusion of Topylko’s presentation, Dr. Block cautioned the district community “to remember that this is one measure of our students’ achievements that represents a snapshot in time.”

“What we always look for are multiple measures of the individual growth of each student,” he said.

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