State report cards offer one view of performance in county schools

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The New Jersey Department of Education recently released the 2013-2014 school performance report cards, which offer a snapshot of how students are doing compared to state and peer group averages.

While the annual report cards usually take center stage this time of year, due to the controversy that erupted last year over the impact of the impending PARCC test, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, the annual report card generated little media attention.

However, the results of the 2013-2014 school year testing remain the only viable data at this point that can be used to measure how students are progressing through both elementary and high school.

The data, which focuses on academic achievement based on previously released test scores, college and career readiness and graduation rates, is then compared to data collected from peer groups and state averages. The information is then used to track student strengths and areas in need of improvement.

The state is aware this amount of data can be confusing, noting that educators, parents and stakeholders often experience the release of the report cards “with fear, confusion and skepticism.”

However, the Department of Education stressed no single metric, such as the annual report cards, can be used to describe a school’s overall performance. The report cards are merely another way to provide additional information to educators and parents so they can decide where improvement is needed.

Each school that receives a performance report is grouped with approximately 30 similar schools into a peer group, which have similar grade configurations and are educating students with similar demographic characteristics.

Overall, the main goal of the annual report card is to provide opportunities for educators and stakeholders to engage in local goal setting, planning and improvement over time.

In an effort to provide this data in a condensed version, LocalSource will be reporting on three Union County school district high schools a week, with the remaining schools targeted over the next several weeks. The information was taken directly from the performance reports released by the state which included a narrative from each school district.

Union High School
Union High School, with an enrollment in the 2013-2014 school year of 2,346, has a strong academic program and co-curricular program that includes athletics, drama, forensics, student government, music, fine arts and several volunteer and service organizations, according to their narrative. In 2014, the school pointed out that students completed 329 Advanced Placement exams, of which 81 percent received a score of three or better.

However, last year, just as the year before, Union High School continued to lag academically in comparison to schools across the state and its peers, outperforming only 23 percent of schools statewide and 23 percent of schools in its peer grouping. Peer percentile was 26 percent and the statewide number was 25 percent.

Academic achievement measures the content knowledge students have in literacy and math, which is calculated by summing up the number of students scoring either proficient or advanced proficient on the assessment and dividing the count of valid test scores.

When it came to college and career readiness, statewide this high school was about average, outperforming 40 percent of schools statewide, but only outperforming 38 percent of the schools in its peer grouping, which included those located in West Orange, Irvington, Edison, Colonia, Roselle Park and Jersey City, among others.

Part of college and career readiness scoring included whether students demonstrated behaviors indicating future success. In high school, this includes the amount of student participation in college readiness tests, such as the SAT.

When it came to SAT’s, Union High School went from 71 percent of students taking the test the previous year to 76 percent in 2013-2014. This was higher than the peer group average of 73.7 percent and the same as the statewide average for 2013-2014 school year.

Students at this high school had an average SAT score of 1,336, lower than the peer grouping score of 1,412 and state number of 1,514. However, in 2013-2014, 21.1 percent of students scored over 1,500 on the test, compared to the year before when only 18 percent of students hit this mark.

When it came to graduation rates, Union High School met 100 percent of its performance targets, but compared to data statewide this was about average when compared to schools across the state. But, there was improvement over the previous year.

For example, in 2013 this high school had a 4-year graduation rate of 92 percent, which increased in 2014 to 95 percent.
A high school’s graduation rate is measured by the number of students who graduate in four years, and the number of students dropping out during that period.

Jonathan Dayton High School, Springfield
The Springfield high school, with a 2013-2014 enrollment of 638, touted in its narrative that it continues to achieve educational excellence as defined by “student engagement in rigorous instruction and commitment to co-curricular activities.” And the school had an academic performance that was about average when compared to schools across the state.

Additionally, this high school’s academic performance lagged in comparison with its peer grouping, which included high schools from Kenilworth, Summit, Saddle Brook, Red Bank, Old Bridge, Nutley and South Orange-Maplewood, among others.
For example, according to the data the state provided, this high school outperformed 47 percent of schools statewide and just 38 percent of schools in its peer grouping.

However, when it came to college readiness, Jonathan Dayton was rated as high when compared to schools across the state, outperforming 76 percent of schools statewide and 76 percent of schools in its peer grouping.

Students also beat the state and peer grouping averages for taking the SAT’s, with 90.2 percent of students in 12th grade taking the test compared to its peer grouping of 78.2 percent and statewide average of 76.2 percent.

The percentage of students scoring 1,500 or more also was high, with 47.6 percent scoring above this number, compared to its peers who came in at 43.3 percent and the statewide average of 44.6 percent.
The average score was 1,502 compared to 1,535 for its peers and 1,514 statewide.

The school’s graduation rate was also listed as “very high” when compared to schools across the state and very high when compared to its peers. According to the state report, this high school outperformed 86 percent of schools statewide and 76 percent of schools in it’s peer group when it came to graduation rates.

The overall graduation rate for Jonathan Dayton was 96 percent compared to 91 percent in its peer grouping and 86 percent statewide. This was up from the 2013 four-year graduation rate of 92 percent.

Cranford High School
Service learning continues to be a large part of the curriculum at Cranford High School, which had an enrollment of 1,163 for the 2013-2014 school year. For instance, internships allow students a variety of experiences beyond what is offered at the school and this high school has increased the number of exams taken by students over 300 percent in the past ten years, while more than doubling the available AP courses, according to the school’s narrative.

In fact, the school noted that over the past year more than 800 advanced placement exams in 26 different areas of discipline were administered with nearly 40 percent of students enrolling in at least one advanced placement course.

While it is unknown if this contributed to this high school being rated very high academically when compared to its peer and statewide groupings, the proof was in the numbers. For example, this high school academically outperformed 84 percent of schools statewide and 65 percent of schools in its peer grouping. This included high schools in New Providence, Westfield, Watchung Hills, Pascack Valley, West Windsor and Chatham.

When it came to college and career readiness, Cranford High School outperformed 73 percent of schools statewide, which is considered high and 53 percent of schools in its peer group, which the state indicated was “about average.”
There were also a high number of students taking the SAT’s, 92.7 percent compared to the peer average of 89.6 percent and a 76.2 percent statewide average.

The average SAT score at this high school came in at 1,679, compared to the peer average of 1,676 and the state average of 1,514, while 65.9 percent of students scored above 1,550 on the test compared to 63.4 percent of its peer grouping and 44.6 percent statewide.

The school’s graduation rate was also high when compared to schools across the state, but only average compared to its peer grouping.

For example, the overall graduation rate for Cranford High School was 97 percent in 2014, but that was less than the year before when the rate for a four years was 98 percent. The state target was 78 percent.