Each year, during the month of October, public schools in New Jersey share important information about performance with community members. This accountability practice is part of a New Jersey requirement known as the Quality Assurance Annual Report (QAAR). The Report is comprised of multiple areas, but for the focus of this column, I will limit my commentary to achievement measures.
Statewide testing of students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 in both literacy and mathematics occurs annually. Tied tightly to New Jersey’s Federally-approved No Child Left Behind (NCLB) State Plan, student results are analyzed by State-hired testing companies for adherence to the State regulations that support Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). It is at this point that the first draft of the performance reports is released to school districts.
As you can imagine, especially if you have a very creative imagination, the reports are fairly complex and require a great deal of insight about some unusual facets of statistical analysis. Just so that you don’t think I am overstating the case, a comprehensive understanding of the report requires insight regarding “bundling” of scores, reportable “N” or group sizes, the mixing of multiple elements for individual students and the qualification provisions of “safe harbor” to name but a few.
Armed with these understandings, we are able to report that seven (7) of our ten (10) schools met each of the forty-one (41) required elements. By doing so, each of these schools are regarded as having met AYP. Our three (3) remaining schools each met forty (40) of the forty-one (41) Stateestablished elements. Greenbrook Elementary School fell short of meeting the literacy element for “students with disabilities.” Crossroads North Middle School fell short of meeting the mathematics element for “students with disabilities.” South Brunswick High School fell short of meeting the mathematics element for “students with disabilities.” In each of these instances, the schools in question met 97.5% of the State-required elements. Unfortunately, under the guidelines of NCLB, these three schools have failed to meet AYP.
Moving from the “look” at each school, the data on the correlating charts illustrates the District’s spring 2007 results by grade level. Chart #1 reveals the percent of all our third, fourth and fifth grade students that were recognized as “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in literacy and mathematics. The State minimum expected level of performance for 2007 for literacy was 75% (and will be 82% for 2008). The State minimum expected level of performance for 2007 for mathematics was 62% (and will be 73% for 2008). In the aggregate, the number of South Brunswick third, fourth and fifth grade students scoring in the proficient and advanced proficient category far exceeded the minimum State performance level.
As illustrated on Chart #2, the performance data of our sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the content areas of literacy and mathematics for 2007 also exceeds State minimum expected levels of performance (literacy expected level 66%; math expected level 49%). In similar fashion, our grade 11 results (see Chart #3), when compared to State minimum expected levels of performance (literacy expected level 79%; math expected level 64%) reveal results well beyond State expectations.
By way of comparison to State expectations, South Brunswick students, in the aggregate, perform very effectively on State-created exams. It needs to be noted here that the expectation/requirement of NCLB’s dictate that by 2014 all public schools must have all students (100%) performing at the proficient or advanced proficient level is completely unrealistic Presently, Congress is entertaining proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that drives the No Child Left Behind initiative. Much attention is being focused on the issues that have been created by the law. As is so typical of the political process, those who created the law are offering a staunch defense for maintaining the status quo.
To be more specific, members of Congress need to balance several concerns. First of all, accountability is central to assisting organizations and individuals in the attainment of high levels of achievement. But it is important to understand that the “end all and be all” of accountability is far more than a standardized test score. If we are to truly prepare our students for success in a global society, we need to develop their sense of creativity and instill a curious nature that seeks to understand the unknown.
Our least able students, those who struggle with disabilities, are expected to perform to the same levels of achievement on the same paper and pencil tests in the same time frame as their non-disabled peers. To even the casual onlooker, this is an obvious flaw in the law. Making it all the more obvious to educators is the reality that federal legislators have created laws (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) that serve to protect the individual educational interests of disabled students but then, seemingly forget these “special needs” in the construction of NCLB.
While there is a laundry list of issues that have been raised with legislators about the reauthorization of NCLB and its continuing punitive treatment of public schools, it is important for the South Brunswick community to know that we welcome accountability but hope that it is fairly designed and implemented in a positive manner that truly assists students and schools in achieving at the highest levels possible.
As always, your support is greatly appreciated. Should you wish to discuss this issue or any other, please contact me.