Newark Celebration/ Blaming the Messenger

A Star-Ledger article today celebrates the successful graduation of Newark Central High School’s Class of 2011. All but 7 seniors passed the qualifying tests – the HSPA or its alternative, the AHSA – in part due, says Principal (and City Councilman) Ras Baraka, to a federal grant that enabled the school to extend the school day and offer college-readiness classes.

Last year, according to the DOE data base, 37% of Central’s students passed the HSPA in language arts and 20% passed the math portion. This year, says Principal Baraka, almost 70% passed the language arts portion and 45% passed the math portion.

Newark Central’s results are even more impressive in light of a press release issued today by Education Law Center (check out their cool new website!) that notes that
According to a June 23 statement from the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE), 3164 seniors who took the Math AHSA did not pass, and 3591 who took the Language Arts AHSA did not pass. In addition, an unknown number of seniors who need AHSA to graduate did not complete the assessment.
ELC also remarks on the lack of info from the DOE despite a $1.1 million contract with Measurement, Inc., the vendor hired to grade the alternative test (which a student takes after failing the HSPA three times), and extrapolates that up to 5,000 high school seniors this year will not receive diplomas despite successful completion of high school requirements.

The DOE, ELC charges, “has fallen far short” of its goal to limit failure on the AHSA to 2,000 kids. If the 5,000 number holds up, that’s true: the DOE has fallen short. So what does that mean? Is the AHSA improperly graded? Is there a lack of oversight that allows high school students to pass courses when they haven’t mastered the material? Does a diploma signify mastery of subject matter or diligent attendance?

Several years ago Lucille Davy, former Gov. Corzine’s Commissioner of Education, acknowledged that Algebra I in a prosperous high school is not the same as Algebra I in a poverty-stricken high school. Our standardized tests make no distinction. ELC berates the DOE for faulty test administration, but a better target might be the lack of access for poor student to high school courses instantly available to kids who don't live in places like Newark.

Labels: , ,