UNION COUNTY, NJ — Four Union County Vocational-Technical Academies and one Elizabeth high school are among the highest performing schools in the state, according to data released by the state Department of Education.
Of the more than 2,000 schools in the state, the UCVTS Academy for Allied Health Sciences and Magnet High School, both located in Scotch Plains, and the Terrence C. Reilly School, one of 36 schools in Elizabeth, scored in the top 1 percent. The UCVTS Academy for Performing Arts and the Academy for Information Technology, both also located in Scotch Plains, scored in the top 2 percent.
The five worst performing schools in the county were also named: the Barack Obama Academy for Academic and Civic Development in Plainfield, George Washington Academy School. No. 1 in Elizabeth, Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. Health and Public Safety Academy in Elizabeth, Cedarbrook Elementary in Plainfield and Plainfield High School.
The Barack Obama Academy received the lowest score in the county.
The DOE assigned a percentage to each school signifying academic performance, calculated on several factors, according to a document accompanying the study.
Elementary and middle school scores were based on the amount of chronic absenteeism, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — or PARCC — test scores and progress on PARCC tests. High school scores were based on graduation rates, the amount of chronic absenteeism and PARCC scores.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as absence by a student for more than 10 percent of the school year.
The DOE study, required under the Every Student Succeeds Act — an Obama-era federal act that replaced the Bush-era’s No Child Left Behind Act — is designed to identify which schools are in need of support.
According to the DOE website, ESSA was enacted to “ensure all students have equitable access to high-quality educational resources and opportunities, and to close educational achievement gaps.”
While the data provides insight about school performance, critics of the study take issue with how much of its calculation is based on the PARCC standardized test results.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state teachers union, has been critical of standardized testing scores. The state began using the test during the 2014-2015 school year.
“NJEA has long had concerns about the use of PARCC scores to make far-reaching conclusions about student learning, teacher effectiveness or school quality,” NJEA Director of Communications Steve Baker told LocalSource in a Feb. 1 email.
“PARCC is only one measure of those things, and a very flawed one at that,” Baker said. “Because the new rankings rely largely on test score data, they are not very useful for rating or ranking schools. They don’t take into account the many other things that go into a well-rounded education.”
On the other hand, Janet Bamford of the New Jersey School Boards Association told LocalSource that the information released by the DOE was provided in the proper context of the ESSA law, and publishes knowledgeable data.
“It is our hope that the New Jersey school performance reports will be viewed by parents and community members in their entirety, as they contain a wealth of information about individual schools,” Bamford said.
While supportive of the DOE’s execution of the study, she too was critical of the study’s emphasis on PARCC.
“The NJBSA believes that a single number or letter grade by itself draws an incomplete picture of school performance and the quality of education provided to its students,” she said.