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The Tale of the Test Scores: City School District Falls Short of Student Improvement Goal

PATERSON, NJ – In the vast majority of instances, Paterson Public Schools last year failed to reach the district’s goal of improving student test scores by at least 10 percent, according to data discussed at a special Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.

In math, none of the grades from the third through the eighth achieved 10 percent improvement in the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) tests, the data showed. In language arts, two of the six grade levels that took the tests managed to meet the 10-percent improvement goal.

During the presentation, state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans highlighted the fact that most of the elementary school grades saw some improvement in their test scores. In fact, four of the six grades tested improved in math and five of the six improved in language arts. But in most of those cases the improvements were just a few percentage points, far short of the district’s goal.

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Evans pointed out to the board that city students did register gains in the High School Proficiency Tests. He also emphasized across-the-board improvements in test scores for Paterson’s special education students.

Some board members seemed to think Evans painted too rosy of a picture when he described the test results during the meeting. City schools commissioner Errol Kerr said the slight increases for some grades were nothing to “get excited” about. “The reality is, we are less than 50 percent” proficient, said Kerr. “That’s not good.’’

Schools commissioner Jonathan Hodges said he thought Evans’ presentation had been overly “sanguine.’’ Hodges said Paterson children were bright enough to learn. “They are so woefully educated, or should I say under-educated,’’ said Hodges.

Evans told the board members that comparing the scores from one year’s third graders against the next year’s third graders was like comparing “apples and oranges” because they were two different groups of kids. He said a better barometer is the “cohort” method, which compares the scores for students when they were in a lower grader the previous year against their numbers in the higher grade the following year.  In other words, it entails comparing the 2010-11 third graders with the 2011-12 fourth graders, or the same group of kids in two different years.

But even using the cohort method, the students’ scores for the most part failed to reach the 10-percent improvement goal. In math, they rose by 10 percent for two of five elementary school grades, while in language arts they rose by 10 percent in one of five grades.

When city schools commissioner Alex Mendez pointed out that several grades registered lower scores in math even using the cohort comparison, Evans acknowledged the numbers were “troubling.’’

Kerr asked Evans why the district was unable to raise the scores any higher.

“Rigor is still absent in too many cases,’’ Evans said. Too often, he said, educators were teaching content below the district’s expectations. “You go into a fifth grade class and they’re doing third grade work, that’s a problem,’’ the superintendent said. “There’s still a culture of low expectations in many of our classrooms and in many of our schools.’’

JoAnne Riviello, the district’s chief academic officer, told the board that the common perception that reading was the key problem in the city’s lower grades was not really true. In the lower grades, she said, the main problem was the inability to write. Reading became more of a problem in the upper grades, Riviello said.

“To me, our students aren’t reading enough,’’ she said.

Evans told the board that some of the district’s initiatives to improve test scores last year started by focusing on the high school level. He said efforts aimed at the elementary schools, such as the consulting work being done by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute For Learning, started late, Evans said.

School board president Christopher Irving said he was particularly troubled by the numbers that showed black and Latino males at the bottom of the scores in pretty much every category. Irving said the problem has persisted for several years and he called on Evans to come up with a plan to help boost the performance of those students.

“We have to get real,’’ Irving said. “Our boys are suffering.’’

Here are the two-year comparison numbers presented at the meeting:

*The number of third graders proficient in language arts went from 33.1 percent in 2011 to 37.2 percent in 2012 and in math from 54.8 percent to 59.5 percent.

*The number of fourth graders proficient in language arts went from 33.2 percent in 2011 to 33.8 percent in 2012 and in math from 55.7 percent to 53.5 percent.

*The number of fifth graders proficient in language arts went from 25.9 percent in 2011 to 34.2 percent in 2012 and in math from 55.8 percent to 60.6 percent.

*The number of sixth graders proficient in language arts went from 36.9 percent in 2011 to 33.5 percent in 2012 and in math from 51 percent to 55 percent.

*The number of seventh graders proficient in language arts went from 30.7 percent in 2011 to 31.1 percent in 2012 and in math from 36.2 percent to36.9 percent.

*The number of eighth graders proficient in language arts went from 53.7 percent in 2011 to 58.7 percent in 2012 and in math from 40.8 percent to 40 percent.

*The number of 11th graders proficient in language arts went from 59.4 percent in 2011 to 66.4 percent in 2012 and in math from 30.9 percent to 46.6 percent.

 

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