Board: Test scores in need of improvement
BY JOYCE BLAY
JACKSON — Students here can do better academically.
That is the finding of the Board of Education, which met on Oct. 26 to present test scores earned by students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law establishes benchmark standards that schools across the nation must meet in order to qualify for federal funding.
The good news is that the combined student body enrolled in Jackson’s public schools met those federal benchmark standards.
The bad news is that when they are broken out into constituent subgroups, special education students’ test scores reflected deficiencies in comprehension of either language arts literacy, mathematics or both indicators.
Fourth grade pupils take the ASK4 (Assessment Skills Knowledge) test; students in the middle schools take the GEPA (Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment), and students in high school take the HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) tests.
According to information presented by the board, special education students at the Switlik School failed to meet literacy benchmark standards, earning the school an early warning.
However, special education students at both the Goetz and McAuliffe middle schools as well as at Jackson Memorial High School failed to meet both literacy and mathematics benchmark indicators. Since students also failed to improve test scores by 10 percent over 2003-04, all three institutions were designated in need of improvement.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, every state must set goals for adequate yearly progress that each school must meet. New Jersey public schools that do not make sufficient progress for two consecutive years are identified as being in need of improvement.
District spokeswoman Allison Erwin said that since both middle schools were affected and there is currently only one high school, parents do not have a choice of sending their children to an alternate school in the district. Instead, supplemental educational services will be provided to eligible students in those schools.
The state Department of Education Web site defines supplemental educational services as extra academic instruction provided to students in language arts literacy and mathematics that must be provided outside the regular school day.
Students who qualify for supplemental educational services include those whose families meet federal poverty guidelines. Priority is given to the lowest achieving eligible student.
The district offers a host of programs and initiatives used to improve scores. In addition, the Holman School recently qualified for a $1.2 million Healthy Eating Activity Together (HEAT) grant through the New Jersey After 3 program.
The after-school program is available to the first 200 students enrolled at Holman who apply. It combines math and literacy enrichment with healthy lifestyle choices in food and exercise. One teacher will be assigned for every 10 students. The grant will be paid out over five years, saving parents $1,200 in child care costs for each year that the student is enrolled.
Students at other Jackson elementary schools may become eligible to join the program at a later date.
District statistics indicated that high school graduates overwhelmingly seek further education after graduation. In a chart, the district indicated that 40 percent go on to attend two-year colleges; 44 percent attend four-year colleges; 10 percent look for work; 5 percent go to technical school; and 1 percent opts for military service.
After the presentation, board members expressed their regret at the failure of students at all district schools to meet required benchmark indicators.
“Being an educator, it’s really tough to hear [bad news],” board member John Morvay said. “Special ed is one of the tough nuts to [crack]. We are striving in this district to have them become overachievers. It’s a difficult process.”
Morvay said board members as well as Superintendent of Schools Thomas Gialanella are committed to achieving excellence.
Board President Michael Hanlon viewed the future with pessimism.
“My one concern in seeing all this is [that] the [district] is continuing to grow,” Hanlon said. “The larger the classroom size, the harder to reach the child.”
Resident Gilbert Guttentag, who spoke during the public forum, was no less skeptical.
“When these kids enter the real world they are going to suffer if they think numbers don’t count,” he said. “This is not the kind of performance we expect.”