This is the second part of a series featuring high schools in Union County after the release of the annual state report cards on school districts. .
UNION COUNTY — Although the state indicated that New Jersey has one of the best school systems in the nation, not every school measured up in the 2012-2013 performance report cards.
When the report cards were released for each school district at the end of last month, Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf stressed that this analysis was part of the department’s effort to ensure all students have the skills they need to move forward in the next phase of their life and data is an important part of that process.
But, while Cerf admitted the annual report cards can be confusing and contradictory, he felt this method of looking at how students are actually performing played an important role.
“We are providing information to enable managers, teachers, principles and superintendents to figure out what’s working,” Cerf said in a statement released to the press last week.
Assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson went into greater detail about problems the report cards present, pointing out that far too often educators and other stakeholders, such as parents, experience “fear, confusion and skepticism” when this data is released.
Erlichson said she understood this apprehension but stressed that because there is no one metric to describe a school’s performance, this is the root cause of this confusion.
“In short, making meaning of school performance data is not simple, straight forward or easy,” she added, warning schools not to fall into the trap of using the data to rank schools “akin to the Best New Jersey Schools” type of list.
“As educators we know well that measuring school performance is both an art and science,” Erlichson added, noting there are many other factors not taken into consideration when this type of ranking takes place.
Some of the questions both educators and parents should be asking is how their particular school did in 2013; how their school fared in certain areas, such as college readiness or SAT testing; how their school compared with other schools similar to theirs; and how their school compares to the statewide target in a particular area.
Schools are compared to approximately 30 “peer schools” in the state with similar grade configurations and that are also educating students with similar demographic characteristics. Some of those characteristics include free and reduced lunch eligibility, limited English proficiency and special education program participation.
This week LocalSource will be looking at how Cranford, Rahway, Hillside and Roselle Park high schools fared on the state report cards.
In the narrative this school district supplied to the state department of education, emphasis was placed on the fact that this high school has consistently been ranked by New Jersey Monthly magazine as one of the top high schools in the state and additionally as one of the top high schools in the nation by Newsweek. The state did point out that rankings such as this, though, do not take all data into consideration and therefore are not a fair representation of how a school is actually performing.
The school district, with an enrollment of 1,148 that is 87.4 percent white with the remainder black, Asian or Hispanic, was ranked within a peer grouping that included, in Union County, Westfield, Berkeley Heights, and New Providence, along with many other schools outside the county.
This high school indicated in its narrative that a large percentage of high school students are encouraged to enroll in AP classes and the district’s school-wide enrichment program, which provides opportunities for students to explore a wide variety of topics not usually covered in a regular curriculum. A performing arts academy also offers opportunities for students with a strong interest in dance, drama, music or technical theater.
This high school noted it increased the number of advanced placement exams taken by students over 300 percent in the last ten years while offering students over 800 advanced placement exams in 26 areas.
So how did this high school fare when all state data was tabulated?
Cranford High School’s academic performance was rated as high, outperforming 80 percent of schools statewide. However, its academic performance was “about average,” or at 58 percent, when compared to its peers.
This high school’s college and career readiness was rated “about average,” or outperforming 79 percent of the schools statewide and in the 48 percentile of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics. The state determined Cranford High School met 80 percent of its performance targets when it came to college and career readiness.
The school also outperformed 74 percent of schools statewide and 50 percent of schools with similar demographics when it came to graduation and post secondary advancement, meeting 100 percent of it performance targets in this area.
College and career readiness measures whether students are demonstrating behaviors indicative of future attendance or success in college or a career. This would include participation in SAT or other testing along with rigorous coursework in AP courses in English, math, social studies and science.
Approximately 90 percent of students from this high school participated in SAT testing, which was only slightly above the state peer average but far above the statewide average of 75 percent.
Cranford High School had 57 percent of students taking the SAT’s score 1550 or above on this test, lagging slightly behind its peers who managed to get 64 percent of their students to score above this number. The state average, though, was 43 percent.
Graduation pathway rates came in at 97 percent for 2012 and 98 for 2013.
According to Roselle Park High School’s narrative, this school offers courses keyed to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Honors classes are also offered in business, English, math, science, social studies and world languages. Advanced placement courses are available in English, calculus, chemistry, biology, Spanish, French, United States History and European history. This high school also offers a work-study program in marketing.
The arts continue to flourish at this high school of 575, which is comprised of 42 percent while, 30 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black and 7 percent Asian students. Of that number, 238, or 41 percent, are considered economically disadvantaged. The school’s peer grouping in Union County included Hillside, Linden and Union high schools.
This school’s academic performance was rated by the state Department of Education as “about average” when compared to schools across the state. However, its academic performance is high when compared to its peers.
But when it came to college and career readiness, this high school lagged in comparison to schools across the state and about average when compared to its peers.
Standing out was the fact this high school’s graduation and post-secondary readiness was ranked “very high” when compared to its peer grouping.
According to state data, Roselle Park High School outperformed 45 percent of schools statewide when it came to academics. The state also indicated this high school is meeting 100 percent of its academic performance targets.
When it came to being prepared for college or a career, this high school outperformed 34 percent statewide and 43 percent in its peer group.
More than 67 percent of students at the high school participated in SAT testing, compared to 70.8 percent in its peer ranking and 75.3 percent statewide, and only 24.5 percent of Roselle Park students managed to get a score above 1550. This was close to its peer grouping which came in at 27.4 percent. However, both were below the state average of 43.9 percent.
This high school also outperformed 65 percent of schools statewide when it came to graduation rates, and 94 percent of students in its own peer grouping. The average graduation rate for this high school was 94 percent of students in both 2012 and 2013.
Hillside High School noted in their narrative to the state that this culturally diverse high school of 840, which includes 71 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic and just 8.6 percent white students, is dedicated to educating its student body by establishing partnerships.
This is enhanced through implementing programs designed to motivate students so their desired career path is tailored toward academic achievement and social and athletic activities that fosters growth.
Students have the opportunity to attend a four-year preparatory program enriched in engineering and pre-med, while freshman are exposed to career rotator classes that offer the opportunity to explore a variety of fields while taking language arts and math.
In the fall of 2012 this school opened a new academy dedicated to visual and performing arts, offering a small environment with the opportunity to take beginner and high-level courses in drama, TV production as well as video, drama, music art and dance.
With the assistance of the Merck Institute for Science Education and the Mathematics Leadership program, teachers work in collaborative learning teams to implement effective decision-making that is data driven, research based and focused on classroom learning.
The state rated the high school’s academic performance as “lags in comparison” to schools across the state. Additionally, its academic performance lags in comparison to its peers. The school’s college and career readiness, though, was about average when compared to schools across the state but high when compared to its peers. The graduation and post secondary readiness was about average when compared to its peers and across the state.
Roselle Park outperformed 21 percent of schools statewide, compared to 24 percent of schools educating students with similar demographics.
When it came to college and career readiness, this high school outperformed 51 percent of schools statewide and 63 percent of peer schools. But this school also only met 40 percent of its performance targets in this particular area.
When it came to graduation and post-secondary school data, this high school outperformed 41 percent of schools statewide and 57 percent of schools educating students with similar demographics.
Although 86 percent of students at this high school participated in SAT testing, only 12 percent managed to score 1550 or above, compared with 28 percent of its peers and also compared to the state average of 43 percent.
Overall graduation rate for 2012 was 76.7 percent, above the statewide number of 75 percent. However, in 201 that number was 66 percent.
This high school is also a culturally diverse, comprehensive high school of 1,102, with 47.8 percent black students, 32.8 percent Hispanic, 18.1 percent white and the remainder of mixed heritage.
The school’s narrative points out that the programs offered to students delivered challenging and rigorous opportunities for all. But, there is an advanced program that offers courses in math, English, social studies, science and world languages.
According to this school’s narrative, approximately 75 percent of all students at this high school pursue post secondary studies, with recent graduates attending Cornell University, New York University, the New York Institute of Technology, Penn State University, Purdue, Rutgers University and Vassar College.
Rahway High School also boasted that New Jersey monthly magazine listed it among the state’s most improved schools, despite being warned that the manner in which data is compiled by these magazines does not influence the state’s data gathering.
When data was compiled, the state noted this high school’s academic performance “significantly lags in comparison to schools across the state.”
Additionally, its academic performance also lagged in comparison to its peers. When it came to this school’s college and career readiness, it fared about average when compared to schools across the state but high when compared to its peers. Graduation rates were also higher when compared to its peers.
Rahway High School outperformed 16 percent of schools statewide and 28 percent of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics when it came to academic performance, and it met 83 percent of its performance targets.
This high school also outperformed 54 percent of high schools statewide when it came to being prepared for college or a career and 74 percent of peer schools. But, this school is only meeting 20 percent of its performance targets in this particular area.
Graduation and post secondary school data showed that this school outperforms 31 percent of schools statewide compared to the 66 percent of schools in their peer group.
About 78 percent of students participated in SAT testing, compared to 66.9 percent of peers, while the statewide ranking was in the 74.4 percentile. Only 19 percent of students, though, scored above 1550 compared to the peer average of 20 percent and also compared to the statewide average of 43 percent.
Overall graduation rate was 88 percent compared to a peer rate of 84 percent, surpassing the statewide target of 75 percent.