Latest attempt to rate N.J. schools is now public

Students in the 3rd grade at St. Paul School in Princeton, N.J. are pictured in this file photo  (Tom Mihalek/AP Images for Skype)

Students in the 3rd grade at St. Paul School in Princeton, N.J. are pictured in this file photo (Tom Mihalek/AP Images for Skype)

This article originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

Grading schools is always tricky business, and the Murphy administration took a shot yesterday with the release of new School Performance Reports for 2017-2018 that again bestow a numerical grade to each school in the state.

The ratings ranged from 1 to 100 and are based on a compilation of factors for schools in each category. For elementary and middle schools, it is a combination of state test scores and progress and absenteeism rates. For high schools, graduation rates are also in the mix.

LOOK UP YOUR SCHOOL HERE IN NJ SPOTLIGHT’S SEARCHABLE DATABASE.

Available for individual schools and for entire districts, the 2017-2018 School Performance Reports provide a host of data on student demographics, achievement, graduation rates, staff and costs, in addition to the overall score and a rating for school.

“The School Performance Reports are a tool designed to inform and empower entire communities,” said Lamont O. Repollet, the state education commissioner. “Not only can they be utilized by parents, educators and the general public, but school leaders can use the reports to help identify areas in which they can better meet the needs of students.”

The significance of the state’s grades is debatable, as critics have maintained such numbers are a shallow gauge of a school and even state officials concede they are but one measure of true quality. Poorer, urban communities skew toward the lowest performing, and wealthier suburban ones dominate the higher grades.

A point of pride, concern, and ready comparison

Still, they are not inconsequential, as under federal rules, the state uses the measures for determining the level of state support and intervention in a school, with those in the lowest 5 percentile getting the most attention.

Either way, the state’s annual reports — required by law and dating back decades in one form or another — have become an annual point of both pride and concern in any given community, not to mention a method of ready comparison between schools.

This round of performance reports include some new features as well, seeking to address inequities and fluctuations in how schools are compared, according to the state Department of Education. And the level of detail in the latest reports runs deep; there’s a 73-page guide to explain what each category represents.

This year’s report cards are providing additional information about staff demographics, discipline, English-language proficiency, and college and career readiness. In some cases, the individual school and district reports also include videos or other information to help parents and the public understand the data.

One area in which this information is helpful is the student growth percentile (SGP), which is a measure of how much students in grades 4 through 7 or 8 learned last year in English/Language Arts Literacy and Math as measured by performance on PARCC tests. Average growth ranges between 35 percent and 65 percent, with low growth under 35 percent and high growth over 65 percent. The state median growth is 50 percent in both subjects. Also noted is whether a school or district met its targeted growth as mandated by federal law.

Across the state, some highs and lows

Hillside Elementary School in Closter scored the highest growth percentile for English, an 87. Three districts tied with the highest SGP in math, an 82: School 28 in Paterson, James Madison School #10 in Garfield and Knollwood School in Fair Haven.

The reports also include the PARCC scores for districts, schools and grade levels, which are probably more familiar to most people, particularly parents.

According to the state’s own report card, 97.3 percent of eligible students took a math test last year, with 45 percent of all types of students in all grades meeting or exceeding expected scores, which is equivalent to “passing.” At every grade level and for every type of math, including algebra and geometry, math passing rates either equaled or surpassed those scored in the previous two school years.

The English/Language Arts passing rate was 56.7 percent, with 97.35 percent of students tested. In two instances, the passing rate last year was lower than in the recent past: 58 percent of 5th graders met or exceeded expectations last year, compared with 59 percent in 2016-2017, and 39 percent of 11th graders passed in 2017-2018, also a point below the 2015-2016 passing rate.

In seven schools, all of them selective academies in county vocational districts, every student tested met or exceeded expectations on the English PARCC: two in Middlesex County, two in Morris, one in Ocean and two in Union. Three of those schools — Middlesex’s Academy of Math, Science and Engineering, Morris’ Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering and Ocean’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science — also had all students pass math tests, as did the Bergen Academies.

In terms of the summative ratings, the highest score for any school was a 97.5 for the Edward H. Bryan School in Cresskill. That put it in the 100th percentile, as were Communications High School in Monmouth County and Infinity Institute in Jersey City. The lowest score, a 1.15, was received by the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, which occupied the lowest percentile, along with Camden High School and Palisades Park Jr.-Sr. High School.

NJ Spotlight included all of the above information — SGP, test scores and summative data — in our searchable database. Every district’s full report card is available on the state’s website.

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