Summit Board of Education Debates Student Achievement Assessment Goals

Summit Board of Education member James Freeman talks about student assessment at Thursday's board workshop session as board member David Dietze looks on. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Board of Education, at its workshop meeting on Thursday, endorsed the tracking of student achievement at the fourth, eighth and 11th grade levels measured against performance in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the American College Test and the student growth percentile concept recently introduced in New Jersey.

Springing from the recent board retreat, one of the school body's goals is to promote the achievement of “significant net improvement” in student academic performance in the kindergarten through 12th grade.

At Thursday's session board members and administrators grappled with the most effective “metrics” to measure this achievement.

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Assistant Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer noted that the school district already measures performance in a number of ways, including the New Jersey ASK test and other standardized tests.

However, board member James Freeman argued for specific achievement objectives at every grade level that should be clearly spelled out.

Board education chairman Edgar Mokuvos added that while the district always has utilized some measure of achievement the school board never has set its own goals.

While Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said Summit often is judged by the achievement of its high school students and the rate of student acceptance to colleges, board members such as David Dietze said perhaps a “sampling” of student achievement throughout the grades would be the best indicator.

Board president Gloria Ron-Fornes noted the board's aim is to endorse a method of measuring student progress goals among a certain “cohort” of students for the 2013-2014 school year and then to determine how to carry that process forward to get a historical perspective reaching to 2018.

Although Freeman said there are national tests that measure student achievement, the administrators replied that those yardsticks currently give an overall picture rather than focusing on achievement in specific districts.

However, resident Slava Zhukov, a frequent advocate for more effective teaching in the Summit schools, said it seemed like the board, in a sense was “trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Zhukov added that someone must already have developed an effective way to measure student achievement and that the board should utilize the results of past studies to devise its system.

He also said teachers might be confused about trying to attain a board goal for students when they also are mandated to meet state goals and now the new student achievement objectives.

The resident also wanted to know if there would be a “punishment” for not reaching student goals.

Zhukov, a scientist who works in the financial data field, also cautioned the school body and administrators about relying too heavily on a data-based approach, saying that data “can be used to fool you.”

On another matter, Dietze, who chairs the board operations committee, said the committee had interviewed three construction management firms to decide who would supervise the construction projects approved by the city board of school estimate as part of the school district's five-year plan.

He said the committee decided to endorse the Epic firm because it was impressed with the firm's recent work on a project in Sparta, its expertise in architecture and engineering and its sensitivity that the Summit district would have security concerns while the projects were being completed.

Dietze also said Epic would commit to posting weekly progress reports on the work on the district's website and would employ “value engineering”, pointing out cost savings and efficiencies that could be achieved during construction.

Assistant superintendent of schools  for business Louis Pepe said although the price tag for Epic's services was around $450,000 this was only about 4.5 percent of the cost of the entire project and only about $30,000 more than the district's original estimate for construction management services.

The initial construction, Dietze said, would focus on renovations to Jefferson and Franklin schools and the science laboratory and auditorium renovations at the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School.

Mokuvos also noted that the board communications committee, in response to resident surveys, had decided on four areas for possible presentations at board meetings:

  • Benchmarking Summit against similar school districts and the state;

  • Now that the five-year plan has been approved, explaining its specific effect on each school, with particular emphasis on safety improvements;

  • Explanations of recent board and district efforts to “beef-up” the guidance functions in the city's schools; and

  • How the city's children are taught—especially focusing on how ideas for curriculum changes are developed and how they are implemented during the summer.

Parker also said that, at next Wednesday's regular meeting of the education body, he expected to recommend that Robert Lockhart be appointed the new athletic director and that he would recommend the appointment of a new vice-principal at the middle school to replace Erik Parks, who has been appointed to a position in another district.

The superintendent said a reception will be held at 7 p.m. at the high school, preceding the board meeting, to welcome the new appointees.




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