School report cards show mixed results for districts

This is the third part of a series featuring high schools in Union County after the release of the annual state report cards on school districts. 
UNION COUNTY — The 2013 school report cards are part of the state department of education’s effort to ensure students have the skills they need to move forward in the next phase of their life, whether it is college or a career.

Although the data gathered by the state can be confusing and even seem contradictory, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf believes the report cards play an important role for educators.

Answers to questions such as what does this data mean, how is my school really doing and where do students need to improve so they have the best chance for success after high school are all important so the appropriate adjustments can be made.

“Data plays an important part in that,” Cerf said, adding that the information the state provides to school districts enable managers, teachers, principals and superintendents to figure out what is working and what is not.

Assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson explained the state is aware that educators experience fear, confusion and skepticism when the state report cards are released but there is a reason for that reaction.

“To some extent our healthy and appropriate adherence to the belief that no one metric can describe a school’s performance is the root cause of this confusion,” she explained, noting that sometimes multiple metrics present contradictory conclusions.

“In short, making meaning of school performance data is not simple, straight forward or easy,” Erlichson assured, urging schools to not fall into the trap of believing the ranking that some magazines come out with annually.

“As educators know well, measuring school performance is both an art and a science,” she added, pointing out many other factors must be considered when ranking school performance.

The state groups each school with approximately 30 other similar schools into a peer comparison group. This peer grouping has similar grade configurations and the schools in the group are educating students with similar demographic characteristics. This includes the percent of students that are economically disadvantaged and receiving free or reduced price lunches, those who have limited English proficiency, special education students and the grade span.

These peer schools may be in the same county or located throughout the state.
Although the state compiled considerable data, in recent weeks LocalSource has presented a snapshot of how high schools in Union County fared so stakeholders have a better idea of how their district measured up to peer schools and statewide. This week we are focusing on Summit and Roselle high schools.

In the narrative submitted to the state department of education, Summit High School indicated this facility was about “honoring the past and creating the future. This high school’s student population is 71.3 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, and 5.6 percent black, with the remaining divided among Asian or other ethnic groups.

Educators pointed out this high school has consistently rated superior, not only academically but also for its art, music, athletics and other programs that celebrate diversity. They, like other high schools in Union County, placed significant importance on the fact Summit High school had high ranking in Newsweek, US News & World Report, The Washington Post and New Jersey Monthly as one of the top high schools in the state.

However, while many school districts mentioned this fact in their narratives, state educators warned that magazine rankings do not take into consideration all the data required to rank a high school and therefore should not be relied upon as being a true indication of actual school standing statewide.

The high school narrative pointed out this facility offers a comprehensive program to a diverse and highly motivated student population of 1,107, geared to the needs of 21st century students. They emphasized 94 percent of the 2013 graduating class continued their formal education at either a four-year or two-year college or some other post-secondary school, while these 267 students are attending 138 different institutions. In addition to an academic and elective program that includes 19 advanced placement courses and 14 honors classes, Summit High School offers a wide range of other opportunities, including 60 athletic teams with highly successful records in the athletic conference.

The technology program also provides computer access to every student and teacher in the building. There also is wireless access throughout the school, which coupled with a “farsighted district technology plan and media literacy initiative, our resources make us a leading school in terms of technology and multimedia use.”

Interest in technology programs was evidenced by a 60.9 percent enrollment in visual art programs compared to the statewide number of 30.2 percent.

The state report card indicated this school’s academic performance was high compared to schools across the state and “very high” when compared to its peer grouping, which included high schools in Kenilworth, Edison, Somerville, Princeton, and East Brunswick.
For example, Summit High School academically outperformed 89 percent of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics and 74 percent of school statewide.

When it came to college and career readiness, this high school fared “very high” when compared to its peers and high when compared to those across the state. According to data supplied by the state, Summit High School outperformed 81 percent of schools statewide and 88 percent of schools in its peer grouping.

This school’s graduation and post-secondary performance was high when compared to schools across the state and high when compared to its peers. For instance, data showed this high school outperformed 68 percent of schools statewide and 78 percent of schools in its peer grouping

When it came to SAT participation, 84.4 percent of students took the test, compared to 75.8 percent in the peer grouping and 75.3 statewide. However, while a large percentage of students took the SAT’s, 64.4 percent of these were able to score above 1550, compared to the peer average of 42.8 percent and 43.9 percent statewide.

This high school had a 96 percent graduation rate in 2013 compared to 95 percent in 2012 and 93 percent in 2011.

Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, ranked with a peer grouping that includes high schools in Plainfield, Elizabeth, Paterson, Trenton and Newark, is 67.5 percent black and 29.1 percent Hispanic with the remaining percentage divided among Asian and other racial subgroups.

This high school, with a student body of 716 in 2013, noted in its narrative that the 2012-2013 school year was in its third and final year under a state School Improvement Grant program.

This grant was piloted by the New Jersey Department of Education in conjunction with the Roselle Board of Education. Through this program students and staff had the opportunity to address concerns about upgrading technology and equipment for 21st century learners in addition to partnering with resourceful experts.

The focus this past year remained to continue promoting forward progress with a goal of turning this high school around to a performing facility where student achievement is at the core. However, the school noted that in order to accomplish this, improvements had to be made each year in language arts, literacy and mathematics.

In order to meet this goal, ACHS offered Saturday HSPA prep courses, academic tutoring and English and math programs. This was expected to enable students to move toward improving language arts, literacy and math, the narrative indicated. Despite this, the state report card showed this school still “significantly lagged” in comparison to schools across the state, but surprisingly was about average when compared to its peer grouping.

For example, the state found ACHS only outperformed 11 percent of schools statewide when it came to academic achievement, but outperformed 47 percent of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics.

The state also found that this high school also significantly lags in college and career readiness when compared to schools across the state, but was about average when compared to its peer grouping schools.

For instance, the state noted that while ACHS only outperformed 18 percent of schools statewide, when it came to schools in its demographic classification, it outperformed 40 percent of its peers.

Likewise, in the graduation and post-secondary performance, this high school once again significantly lagged in comparison statewide but was about average when compared to its peers.

According to the state report cards, ACHS outperformed only 12 percent of schools across the state, while once again outperforming 52 percent of schools in its peer grouping.

When it came to SAT testing, 73.1 percent of students participated, compared to 61.2 percent of its peer grouping and 75.3 percent statewide. However, only 4.4 percent of students taking the SAT’s scored above 1550, compared to the 8.7 percent of its peer grouping and 43.9 percent of high schools statewide.

In 2013 this high school had a 75 percent graduation rate compared to the 80 percent it had in 2011 and 74 percent in 2012.
Next week: Springfield, Elizabeth and Kenilworth