BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—Township assistant superintendent of schools Scott McKinney labeled Thursday’s student achievement report to the school board as an overview of “our most recent scores versus our own historical performance” rather than a broad comparison to Berkeley Heights with other school districts.

However, many of the categories discussed demonstrated how Berkeley Heights students are outperforming their peers in many categories.

The school administrators doing the presenting also pointed out ways in which the township schools are better using performance data to drive more effective instruction methods.

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The presentation did, however, start off with some slightly disappointing statistics concerning Scholastic Aptitude Test performance.

Data for the Gov. Livingston High School class of 2016 showed that, unlike in the previous two years, scores for last year’s graduating class dropped 22 points. That was close to the state scoring drop of 19 points. 

High school principal Robert Nixon said the score drop, while concerning, could not be directly tied to the new SAT test, since that test did not come on board until two months after last year’s senior class completed their SAT testing for the year.

He added the school district would intensify preparation efforts for both the SAT and the ACT (American College Test) and would closely monitor future student performance on the tests to determine the overall reasons for declines.

McKinney also quoted a recent article on the decline in SAT scores that said in response to the decline—“it’s complicated.”

A second SAT chart presented by Nixon also showed that “an examination of the historical SAT scores by section shows a decline in the writing and critical reading scores of the old SAT.”

However, for the ACT scores at Gov. Livingston, it was a different story, with the scores showing gains against state and national averages and a breakdown of historical ACT scores by section showing gains in almost all areas.

In the area of advanced placement examinations data showed a growth in student participation at the AP program at the high school, while maintaining student achievement.

The number of AP test takers at Gov. Livingston grew from 214 in 2015 to 229 in 2016, while the number of students with a 3 or above went from 185 to 200.

Percentage wise, in 2016, 87.5 percent of students at the township high school taking AP tests scored three or better, company to 71.8 percent in New Jersey and 60.2 percent nationally.

On the AP exam passing rates, Gov. Livingston went from 81 to 87 percent, while the national average declined from 58 to 57 percent.

The school officials said they were glad to see historical increases in 4s and 5s on the tests among Gov. Livingston students and decreases in 1s and 2s.

Also, the scoring average is 3.0 or better for 20 of 22 AP courses offered at the Berkeley Heights high school.

While the officials were encouraged by high passing rates in social studies, English and mathematics and physics, they said AP world language remains a focus area for improvement and, to partially meet this need, the honors track for these courses was launched in September and will expand again next year.

Current and future improvements at the high school include:

  • Inclusion of the ACT test in the SAT test prep offering, with plans to offer the PreAct test to provide students with additional exposure to college entrance exams. The PSAT still is offered to all students in the 9th through 11th grades at Gov. Livingston.
  • The ongoing rollout of the honors level world language program includes levels 1 to 3 for the 2017-2018 school year.
  • There is expansion of the use of AP Potential to increase access and preparation for the AP program.
  • Expanded AP offerings will include AP Music Theory and AP Environmental Studies.
  • There will be identification of future AP offerings and courses supporting the STEM initiatives.

On the statewide Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAARC), scheduled to be taken by all New Jersey students in grades three to 11 over the last two school years and continuing into the future, township elementary students surpassed the PAARC and state proficiency rates.

As a result of years one and two findings, the township schools, in math, will continue with multi-step word problems and focus on number and operation in Base 10 and measurements and data.

In English Language Arts (ELA) township school officials see a need for ongoing exposure to literature and informational texts with students using paired texts to compare and contrast or identify patterns.

Next steps include:

  • Data meetings incorporating multiple measures to support students.
  • Professional development.collaboration and ongoing differentiation of instruction
  • Exploring math instruction and support and elementary scheduling as part of the district strategic plan. 

The school officials noted the district discovered that, in its Go Math program, it was using many more strategies than actually needed and instructors would be making better selections to make instruction more effective.

At the middle school level, township students also far surpassed PAARC and state proficiency rates and “showed significant improvement from Year 1.”

First-and-second-year findings:

  • Math: Evidence statement analysis helped identify targeted skills that will require focused instruction to build the foundation for pre-algebra and algebra.
  • ELA: The evidence statements show a common need for further focus using cross-curricular informational texts.

Next Steps:

  • A variety of ELA resources focused upon vocabulary and increasing reading comprehension across all academic areas
  • Expanded teacher contact time in math and ELA for seventh grade students
  • MathSpace has been expanded to target skills in seventh and eighth grade mathematics and Algebra I from pilot groups
  • STEM-related activities will be included in the present “cycle”classes and plans for next year include an expansion of offerings.

School officials said the second year of PAARC assessments gave them more timely information that can be analyzed to support students and improve the delivery of instruction.

Teachers are reviewing two years of PARCC scores in conjunction with other assessments to make informed classroom decisions that will support student growth.

Instructors at the various grade levels and in various courses are developing plans to address any of the areas of concern that are identified through evidence statements and item analysis reports.

The district supports the remediation of students who have been identified as needing targeted interventions at a variety of different instructional levels.

Responding to a question from resident Dimitriy Agatanov, McKinney and school board president Doug Reinstein said the district has a much better success rate in response to technical breakdowns in computer equipment used for PAARC tests than many other districts.

They added the township district does all it can to implement upgrades in computer systems as soon as they are needed and does not penalize students who are interrupted while taking the tests due to technical glitches.

Reinstein noted that the complete text of the report on student achievement will be posted on the district website.