Cerf Convocation: NJ's Latest Test Scores

The big NJ education story today is yesterday’s Convocation at Jackson Liberty High School, featuring Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf, his management team, and 400 members of the NJ Association of School Administrators. Here’s coverage from NJ Spotlight, the Courier Post (which ran on the AP wire), and two stories from the Star-Ledger (here and here). NJ Spotlight also has Cerf’s powerpoint.

I wasn’t there, but judging by the coverage, Comm. Cerf’s team appeared hard-working and intact (although current Asst. Comm. nd Chief Performance Officer Penny MacCormack is leaving next month to be superintendent of Montclair Public Schools). NJ’s new seven Regional Achievement Centers, created to offer intense support for our 253 Focus and Priority schools, are up and running. NJ SMART, the DOE’s data base, is upgraded and pretty close to being able to link individual student growth to teachers. And the DOE has set state benchmarks for student achievement, an opportunity engendered by our waiver from the Feds from the (impossible) benchmarks of No Child Left Behind.

From the Courier Post:
The state now wants every school district to cut the percentage of students failing standardized tests in half by 2017. Each school has annual goals to increase their passage rates for each test to reach the larger target. But schools where at least 90 percent of students pass will not be docked for not having their scores rise.
Maybe that’s not impossible. But it’s going to be a stretch. At the Convocation, Comm. Cerf also announced the state’s most recent test scores. Elementary and middle school students scored 65.9 percent proficient in language arts – slightly down from 2009 -- , and 75.3 percent proficient in math, on the NJ-ASK test, pretty much the same from 2009. On the high school assessment, the HSPA, 91% of students were proficient in language arts; in math, 75.3% were proficient, slightly better than 2009.  Not bad, and encouraging in elementary and middle school language arts. But that achievement gap? From the Star-Ledger:
Regarding the achievement gap, the difference between wealthy and poor students narrowed slightly at the high school level, according to the data. On the NJ-ASK the gap remained about the same or widened slightly, however, between both poor and more well-off students, and between white students and either African-American or Hispanic students.
For both Comm. Cerf and Gov. Christie, there's much  credibility riding on those Regional Achievement Centers, which will pour resources into the 11% of NJ's schools labeled Focus or Priority, all in an effort to address chronically low student achievement. Of course, in turn there will be plenty of pressure on those schools to make academic progress: for some, Title 1 funding and local control is on the line.  In the end, it will come down to numbers, to output, to value-added data. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

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