State report gauges schools against their ‘peers’

This is the fourth and final part of a series featuring high schools in Union County after the release of the annual state report cards on school districts. 

UNION COUNTY — When the school performance report cards were released for each school district, Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf pointed out this analysis was part of his department’s efforts to ensure all students have the skills they need to move forward in the next phase of their life and this data is an important part of that process.

Although Cerf admitted the annual report cards can be contradictory and confusing, he felt this method of looking at how students are actually performing compared to their peer grouping and statewide played an important role.

“We are providing information to enable managers, teachers, principals and superintendents to figure out what’s working,” Cerf said in a statement when the report cards were released.

Some of the questions parents and educators 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 compared to the statewide target in a particular area.

High schools are compared to 30 peer schools in the state with similar grade configurations which 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 Elizabeth, Springfield and Kenilworth high schools fared on the state report cards.
Elizabeth
Elizabeth, a highly industrialized urban community 12 miles from New York City, is the fourth largest city in New Jersey. It is located at one of the nation’s primary transportation crossroads and boasts an expanding economy for its 120,000 residents. Designated as an urban enterprise zone, this port city is a multicultural center and proud of its rich ethnic diversity. The Elizabeth High School student body is 69.7 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black, 15.1 percent white and 5.2 percent Asian.

In the narrative this school district provided to the state department of education, emphasis was placed on the rigorous academic experience the 769 students are put through so they are prepared to attend one of the nation’s top four colleges. The school has supported this ongoing effort by pointing out that Elizabeth High School was ranked by the Washington Post as the number one high school in New Jersey and 70th public or private high school in the nation, according to the narrative.

Students at this high school are required to take advanced placement classes in World History, English language, English Literature and United States History. AP classes are also offered in chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, art studio, human geography, European history, U.S. government, statistics and calculus. All students are also required to study Latin for two years and take the National Latin exam.

In addition, every student must complete 30 hours of community service and a senior project.
This school’s academic performance was rated as “very high” when compared to schools across the state and very high compared to its peer grouping schools. Specifically, this high school was matched with a peer grouping that included high schools in Plainfield, Roselle, Paterson, Newark, East Orange and Trenton.

According to the state report card, this high school outperformed 89 percent of schools statewide and 94 percent of schools with similar demographic characteristics. When it came to college and career readiness, this school was rated as very high when compared to its peers, outperforming 84 percent of its peers and 64 percent of schools statewide.

The report card also pointed out that this high school’s graduation and post-secondary performance was rated as high when compared to schools across the state, outperforming 65 percent. Also, when compared to its peer grouping in this area, Elizabeth High School’s graduation and post-secondary readiness was rated as “very high,” outperforming 86 percent of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics.

In the 2012-13 school year, 100 percent of students participated in SAT testing, compared to 61.2 percent of schools in their peer grouping and the state average of 73.3 percent. While 100 percent of students participated in SAT testing, only 33.7 percent scored above 1550. However, this schools peer grouping only achieved 8.7 percent in this area and the state bar at this level was set at 43.9 percent.

In fact, the average SAT score for this high school was 1,457 compared to its peer grouping score of 1,210 and the state average of 1,512.

Graduation rates for Elizabeth High School in 2013 were 96 percent, compared to 2011 when the rate was 73 percent and 2012 when it was 86 percent. In its peer grouping graduation rate for last year, the school was 91st percentile, and compared to the statewide average, they finished in the 74th percentile.

Kenilworth
David Brearley High School serves students in grades 7 through 12 and has a send-receive relationship with nearby Winfield Township at the high school level. This school was also chosen by the department of education to be an Interdistrict Public School Choice School and currently enrolls over 140 students in grades 7 through 12 from eight surrounding towns.

With 670 students that are 56.5 percent white, 25.1 percent Hispanic and 12.5 percent Asian, this high school offers over 15 Advanced Placement classes with students participating in a Personalized Student Learning Plan class which focuses on 21st Century Skills.

In addition to the regular scope of programming, this high school introduced the Scholars Academy in 2012. The Academy is a gifted and talented program that serves 7th through 10th grade. Students must apply and be selected to join the academy but once accepted must maintain high grade point averages and follow a prescribed and rigorous curriculum.

At the end of 10th grade, Academy students choose a career to follow and complete a job shadowing experience that correlates to their interests and career aspirations.

David Brearley also offers its most at-risk students an opportunity to complete high school in an alternative program called ACE. The ACE program allows students to take approved online courses that are self-paced and adapted to their skill needs and level.

The program runs after the standard school day ends and provides an alternative environment for students to thrive, school officials reported.

According to report card information, this school’s academic performance lags in comparison to schools across the state, outperforming just 23 percent and significantly lags in comparison to its peer schools in such towns as Summit, Somerville, Morris Hills, East Brunswick and Montclair, outperforming just 6 percent.

When it came to college and career readiness, this high school was rated about average when compared to schools across the state, outperforming 40 percent of them, and outperforming only 28 percent of its peer grouping schools.

In 2013 this high school reported 64 percent of students participating in SAT testing, compared to 75.9 percent of its peer grouping schools and 75.3 percent statewide. In addition, just 32 percent of students scored above 1550 on SAT testing compared to its peer grouping which scored 45 percent and 43.9 percent statewide. The average SAT score for this high school was 1,436, compared to its peer grouping of 1,557 and 1,512 statewide.

However, graduation and post graduation readiness was high compared to its peers, outperforming 71 percent, and 59 percent statewide, or “about average.”

The overall graduation rate was 93 percent, compared to 2011 when it was 92 percent and 2012 when it was 90 percent. With a 93 percent graduation rate for last year, according to the state report, the high school placed in the 65th percentile among both its peers and statewide.

Springfield
Jonathan Dayton High School indicated in their narrative that its 607 students continue to achieve educational excellence, noting each is encouraged to become critical thinkers, articulate speakers and sophisticated writers who will be able to succeed in all facets of their educational experience.

Student are required to complete 160 community service hours as well as 130 credits for graduation that include college prep, honors and advanced placement courses in English, world languages, social studies, math, science, physical education and the arts. Every student is also required to take four years of math courses in order to refine critical, analytical and math skills.

The curriculum is constantly reviewed and revised so students are afforded the most current teaching methods and materials. Students are also provided the opportunity to participate in many co-curricular activities, including broad athletic programs, clubs, and social activities.

The success of this high school, the narrative explained, is also measured by the quality of staff, a majority of which hold advanced degrees. Administrators and supervisors are creative and collaborate with staff members to design exciting and challenging programs for students such as Tomorrow’s Teachers, Springfield Leadership Academy, Model UN, Junior Statesman of America and Mock Trial.

“We encourage students to take a leadership role in school and the community,” the high school narrative said.
This high school’s academic performance, though, according to school report cards, significantly lagged in comparison to schools across the state, with students only outperforming 5 percent of their peer grouping schools such as Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Bridgewater, Clark, Madison and Fair Lawn. Statewide this school fared better, outperforming 35 percent of schools.

The school’s college and career readiness, though, was rated as high compared to schools across the state, outperforming 74 percent when compare to its peers. According to the report cards, this high school outperformed 61 percent of schools with similar demographic characteristics of 66.9 percent white students, 13.4 percent Hispanic, 12.2 percent Black and 7 percent Asian.

Jonathan Dayton’s graduation and post secondary performance was also rated as high when compared to schools across the state, outperforming 61 percent. This high school, though, was about average when compare to its peer grouping, outperforming 44 percent of those with similar characteristics.

When it came to SAT testing, 90.1 percent of students participated, compared to the peer average of 85.9 percent and the sate average of 75.3 percent. Students achieving above 1550 on the SAT’s, however, was 43.2 percent compare to its peer grouping which came in at 56.3 percent and the state average of 43.9 percent.

The average SAT score at this high school was 1,524, compared to the peer grouping average of 1,622 and the state average of 1,512.

In 2013 this high school had a 92 percent 4-year graduation rate, compared to 2011 when the rate was 97 percent and 2012 when it was 96 percent.