State report cards show just one ‘metric’ of school district progress

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The release of the annual New Jersey Department of Education report cards is often met with fear, confusion and skepticism, but officials warned that no one metric can describe a school’s overall performance.
In fact the NJDOE points out that understanding the meaning of school performance data “is not simple, straightforward or easy.”

The state also suggested that school districts not use the school performance report card results to create a ranking of schools similar to the annual “Best New Jersey Schools” list.

The NJDOE said testing data is collected to provide a more complete picture of a school’s performance, with the goal of schools, parents and other stakeholders engaging in goal setting and improvement where needed.

The report card data, which focuses on academic achievement based on previously released test scores, college and career readiness and graduation rates, is compared to data collected from peer groups and state averages.

Each school is grouped with approximately 30 other similar schools into a peer group, with students having the same or similar grade configurations and educating students with similar demographic characteristics. For example, a school in an urban community would be grouped with other urban schools with a similar makeup and likewise with suburban schools
While the school report cards do provide data for elementary grade levels, due to the large number of schools in the district, LocalSource will only be concentrating on results for high schools in Union County.

This is the third in the series, with schools in Kenilworth, Hillside and Clark the focus this week.
Kenilworth
Although a small district with 697 students enrolled in the 2013-2014 school year, this high school indicated in its narrative that students at David Brearley Middle-High School benefit from a small, safe and personal educational setting balanced upon the “three A’s”: academics, arts and athletics.

The school focuses on ensuring each student is provided with numerous opportunities to participate in a wide variety of educational, social and recreational activities as part of their experience in the district, according to the narrative the district provided to the state.

In the area of academic achievement, this high school was rated about average when compared to schools across the state, with
students outperforming 41 percent of students statewide. However, Brearley lagged in performance compared to its peers, only
outperforming 26 percent of its peer grouping when it came to this particular area.

This high school’s peer grouping included high schools in Union, Edison, Hamilton, Nutley, East Brunswick and Maplewood, among others.

College and career readiness is an important part of this testing because it measures the degree in which students demonstrate habits indicative of future success in college or career pursuits. For high schools, an important barometer includes participation in college readiness tests, such as the SAT’s.

This high school’s college and career readiness was rated about average when compared to schools statewide, with Brearley outperforming 59 percent of schools statewide and 52 percent of schools in its peer grouping.

When it came to the actual SAT’s, 84 percent of students participated in these tests, compared to 79.9 percent of their peers and 76.2 percent of students statewide. The average student scored 1,418 on the SAT’s, compared to 1,541 in their peer grouping, and 1,514 statewide.

Those scoring above 1,550, which is considered to be a benchmark indicating a high likelihood of college success and completion, 28 percent of students taking the SAT’s scored over this number compared to 44 percent of their peer grouping and 44.6 percent of students statewide.

On the other hand, this school’s graduation and postsecondary performance was rated very high when compared to schools across the state and very high when compared to its peers.

For instance, Brearley outperformed 94 percent of schools statewide and 99 percent of its peer schools in this particular area. This school also improved its graduation rate considerably over previous years.

For example, in 2014, 98 percent of students completed high school in four years, compared to 2013 when the rate was 93 percent and 2012 when it was at a low of 90 percent.
Hillside
Hillside High School, with an enrollment of 611 students in the 2013-2014 school year, has a culturally diverse student body that has the opportunity to participate in a four-year preparatory program focusing specifically on engineering and pre-med. This program includes internships for 12th grade students.

However, despite efforts by the district to increase student comprehension, according to the school’s narrative, this high school’s academic performance significantly lagged in comparison to schools across the state and lagged when compared to peer schools.

For example, Hillside High only academically outperformed 15 percent of schools statewide and 31 percent of their peer grouping, which included schools in the towns of Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Bound Brook, Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne and Trenton, among others.

When it came to college and career readiness, this high school came out about average, outperforming 46 percent of students statewide. Compared to its peer grouping, Hillside High only outperformed 57 percent of schools.

Approximately 87.4 percent of students at this high school participated in the SAT’s, compared to 66.9 percent of its peers and 76.2 percent of students statewide.

The average SAT score for students taking the test was 1,183, compared to its peer grouping, which averaged 1,332, and statewide where the average score was 1,514. Additionally only 4.8 percent of students scored higher than 1,550, compared to the peer average of 17.2 percent and statewide student average of 44.6 percent.

This school’s graduation and postsecondary performance lagged in comparison to schools across the state, only outperforming 24 percent of students statewide and 57 percent of its peer grouping.

For example, while Hillside High had an 89 percent graduation rate, it was better than 78 percent schools in its peer grouping and better than 33 percent of those statewide.

But, while this school’s graduation rate was only 89 percent in 2014 that number has steadily increased. For instance, in 2013 the school had an 80 percent graduation rate, which was better than 2012 when that number came in at 77 percent of students graduating.
Clark
Arthur L. Johnson High School, with an enrollment of 835 students in the 2013-2014 school year, touted in its narrative that this high school had been recognized by Newsweek magazine as a Top American Public High School for success on Advanced Placement exams and was recognized as one of the top 100 schools in the state by NJ Monthly Magazine.

This school’s academic performance was in keeping with this legacy, outperforming 61 percent of schools statewide, according to the report card. However, ALJ lagged in comparison to its peer high schools, which included schools in Scotch Plains, Bridgewater, Madison, New Providence, Millburn, Hunterdon and Westwood, among others.

For example, while this school outperformed students academically statewide, the high school only outperformed 42 percent of students in its peer grouping.

ALJ’s college and career readiness was high when compared to schools across the state, outperforming 68 percent of students statewide, but when compared to its peers, this high school was about average, outperforming 42 percent of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics. Figuring into this was the school’s SAT results, which showed 90.7 percent of students participated in the testing compared to 86.9 percent of its peer grouping and 76.2 percent of students statewide.

However, only 38 percent of students scored above 1,550 on the test, compared to 58.9 percent of its peer groups and 44.6 percent statewide. The average SAT score was 1,498, compared to the peer group average of 1,632 and state average of 1,514. This high school’s graduation and postsecondary readiness was very high when compared to schools across the state, with ALJ outperformed 87 percent of students statewide.

ALJ also was ranked high in this area when compared to its peer grouping, doing better than 75 percent of schools with similar demographic characteristics.

For example, in 2014 this high school saw 96 percent of students graduate after four years, but this number was down over 2013 when 97 percent of students graduated and 2012 when 99 percent of students were handed a diploma.