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Column: H.S. Test Scores a Mixed Bag

Examine the scores with care, because many factors contribute to the results.

New Jersey released school test scores last week.

It’s an annual ritual that is both highly anticipated and loathed by many.

No matter how much people complain about the over-testing of students, about the state placing too much emphasis on the tests, about schools teaching to the test and of tests being used to judge schools, everyone combs the test scores to see how students and schools are doing.

Judging by the statewide averages on the language arts and math sections of the High School Proficiency Assessment—passing this test is a graduation requirement for most high schoolers—students and schools are doing fairly well, or at least improving.

Almost 90 percent of high school juniors, the current Class of 2012, who took the test for the first time last spring passed the reading and writing section of the test. Three-quarters passed math. Those represent increases of 2.5 percentage points in language arts and 1.1 percentage points in math over the 2010 test administration.

Looking at Morris County schools, the results are mixed. About half the schools improved their average percent “passing” rates—those scoring proficient or advanced proficient—in math. A little more than half improved their language arts passing rates. But that means the others had lower passing rates.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of these schools has dropped.

Many Morris high schools are wealthy and naturally high-achieving, so small drops in passing rates don’t mean much. That’s especially true given that the test is measuring the performance of one class against an entirely different group of students. Ask any teacher and he or she will say that, for whatever reason, different classes of students from year to year have different personalities, different strengths and different weaknesses.

It should be up to teachers to address every student’s needs, but that’s often not possible. In an ideal world, every student would pass. As a practical matter, that’s never going to be the case.

It’s easier to improve performance when starting from a low point than to bring a 98 percent passing rate up to a 99 or perfection. And it’s hard to get every student to pass—the only Morris schools to do so last year were the two academies for high-achievers within Morris County Vocational School District, and one school (law and public safety) had only 12 students take the tests, while the other (math, science and engineering) had 22.

There are other caveats to test results. Generally, children from higher-income families do better and vice versa. The state Department of Education released other results, as well, for tests for grades 3-8 and breakdowns within each test for special education and bilingual students, sex and race, among others. These generally bore out traditional stereotypes and trends: boys did test better than girls in math, while girls did better in language arts; Asians outperformed all other racial and ethnic groups in math, and they scored as well as whites on the language arts section.

No test or group of tests should be used to grade a school, but taken with other information, including demographic and socioeconomic, they can provide fodder for parents and community members, not to mention school officials themselves, to see what a school is doing well and question whether it might be able to do some things better.

For instance, Dover, which is ranked among the poorest and lowest socioeconomic grouping in the state, posted impressive passing increases of 6.5 percent in language arts and 11.1 percent in math. It outperformed and , in Sussex, on both sections of the test, and also had a higher passing percentage in math than , , Roxbury, , and Boonton, all of which are ranked higher socioeconomically based on the state’s district factor group system.

Did Dover have an especially bright class take the test or has it implemented some changes in curriculum or teaching style, or both, that led to the increases?

It can also be useful to compare schools’ scores against the district factor group averages, which give an idea of how schools are doing compared to similar schools.

In the GH group, which is roughly upper middle class, a little more than half of Morris districts fared better than the average in each of the tests. Jefferson, Morristown and both Parsippany high schools had a smaller percentage of students passing. Could these schools do something differently to help more students pass?

There is one especially troubling statewide result that all districts should consider: Blacks had the lowest passing rates on the HSPA of any other major racial or ethnic group. Even though English is not the first language for some Hispanic students, they did better than blacks on the reading and writing section of the test, as well as on math. This pattern carries through in those Morris districts for which brakedowns were available, particularly regarding the math results.

That kind of information is what school officials and community members should take away from the test results and use as a basis for making changes to help more students pass. Because regardless of anyone’s feelings about the test, students do have to pass it in order to get a diploma.

HIGH SCHOOL PASSING RATES IN 2011

The number of high school juniors taking the HSPA in spring 2011; the percent "passing," meaning they scored proficient or advanced proficient; the change in the passing rate from the prior yearl and the percent scoring advanced proficient last year.

Language Arts Test Results  High School # Tested % Passing Passing change from 2010 % Advanced Proficient DFG A Average 11,410 69.9 7.3 4.4 Dover 160 88.8 6.5 12.5 DFG DE Average 13,714 91.7 2.4 15.4 Butler 117 90.6 0.1 22.2 DFG FG Average 11,594 92.8 1.4 20.0 Boonton 144 92.4 6.2 17.4 Hopatcong 181 83.4 -4.8 11.0 DFG GH Average 17,912 94.4 1.0 25.9 Hanover Park 190 96.3 3.2 32.6 Whippany Park 141 95.8 0.5 34.8 Jefferson 269 93.0 -0.4 17.5 Morris Hills 280 97.8 4.2 23.2 Morris Knolls 412 94.2 -0.9 26.5 Morristown 369 87.0 0.1 26.6 Mount Olive 362 96.4 3.9 32.6 Parsippany High 277 91.7 0.8 26.4 Parsippany Hills 303 93.4 1.8 33.7 Pequannock 185 97.9 -0.7 33.0 Roxbury 352 95.1 2.4 24.4 DFG I Average 15,547 96.5 0.3 37.1 Kinnelon 175 96.5 -1.3 39.4 Madison 198 98.0 -1.0 46.0 Montville 352 97.4 1.6 29.8 Randolph 414 96.1 -0.9 38.6 West Morris Central 342 96.8 -1.1 35.1 West Morris Mendham 308 98.3 -1.1 57.1 DFG J Average 3,868 97.8 0.2 46.1 Chatham 297 98.3 0.4 53.5 Mountain Lakes 186 97.9 -1.4 42.5 DFG V Average 5,174 91.7 1.7 23.8 Law and Public Safety 12 100.0 0.0 41.7 Mathematics, Science, Engineering 22 100.0 0.0 95.5 MC School of Technology 160 98.8 -0.3 28.8 State Average 96,887 89.6 2.5 20.8 Non-special Needs Average 83,017 92.5 1.7 23.3 Math Test Results High School # Tested % Passing Passing change from 2010 Advanced Proficient DFG A Average 11,377 47.0 2.3 6.5 Dover 162 85.2 11.1 19.8 DFG DE Average 13,717 75.9 1.7 19.2 Butler 117 75.2 5.8 14.5 DFG FG Average 11,573 78.7 1.6 23.8 Boonton 142 74.0 5.9 14.8 Hopatcong 181 65.1 -6.2 11.0 DFG GH Average 17,883 84.2 1.0 31.6 Hanover Park 190 85.2 -0.5 36.8 Whippany Park 141 87.2 2.0 39.7 Jefferson 269 79.2 -0.9 18.2 Morris Hills 280 89.6 2.5 33.2 Morris Knolls 412 86.4 -2.4 33.0 Morristown 371 76.5 0.6 29.6 Mount Olive 361 85.9 4.6 40.2 Parsippany High 276 77.5 3.8 27.9 Parsippany Hills 304 83.6 -2.0 36.2 Pequannock 185 94.1 2.0 34.6 Roxbury 352 82.4 2.7 23.3 DFG I Average 15,543 88.9 -0.3 43.4 Kinnelon 175 87.5 -5.3 38.9 Madison 199 88.9 -4.0 42.2 Montville 353 88.7 -3.1 40.5 Randolph 413 87.9 -1.7 43.3 West Morris Central 342 87.1 -2.7 41.8 West Morris Mendham 307 93.4 0.7 51.1 DFG J Average 3,873 93.5 -1.2 56.9 Chatham 297 91.6 -1.3 53.9 Mountain Lakes 186 94.6 -2.2 46.8 DFG V Average 5,175 77.3 -0.3 29.2 Law and Public Safety 12 100.0 7.1 58.3 Mathematics, Science, Engineering 22 100.0 0.0 100.0 MC School of Technology 60 95.7 -0.9 36.9 State Average 96,783 75.2 1.1 25.3 Non-special Needs Average 82,958 79.6 0.9 28.2

Source: Patch anaylsis of NJ Department of Education data

Roll Back Our Tax February 23, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Interesting...I operate my own business now. If you're my neighbor and own lakefront you must have worked for the state as a teacher, otherwise you would have appealed your taxes by now. You probably know this. But just so the taxpayers in Hopatcong are clear about how my "Roll Back Our Tax" Group was formed. http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/100-gather-to-take-on-rising-taxes-organizer-has-harsh-words-for-hopatcong Back In November of 2010, armed with an appraisal I went to Therese DePiero, the Borough Assessor to request that she "voluntarily" reduce my taxes by about $2,400. I requested $1,200 for the 2010 tax year and $1,200 for the 2011 tax year. I only got $1,200. So I said "I would take the borough to Tax Appeal Court". She then got the Borough Attorney, John Ursin involved. I told him "I was going to make him a rich man". I got my $ and so did (80) other tax appealers. In 2011 armed with another appraisal I went to Therese DePiero again and requested that my taxes "voluntarily" be reduced by another $2,400. She denied me again! Only this year I have about (400) in my group and the Mayor passed a Resolution in January 2012 to cover Attorney Ursin's fees. http://www.hopatcong.org/Minutes/010412Reorg.pdf Resolution #2012-09 – Legal Defense of Tax Appeals As soon as my tax appeal is done the house is going on the market. I had a realtor tell me "if you're selling, the BEST thing you can do to sell your house, is appeal your taxes".
Interesting February 23, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Nope... Not a teacher... Only one more guess grasshopper.... When is the open house? And yes... I have read your story here on the "enquirer" many times.... Don't worry.... Be happy.... by the way... Don't be so sure about what I may or may not have done about my taxes.... I will be watching....
Interesting February 23, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Tammy - I am not any different than you. I live here, I pay taxes, and I am not a public person. The town, school, and county all individually have budgets to do what they do. There are a couple of important points: they are standalone groups that just happen to be added up so we have one tax bill. it takes a certain amount of money to do those things - we can all do what we need to do to be informed on what the money is spent on. That is not my point here. The assessed values of all of the houses in any town are added up and multiplied by a rate to equal the amount needed to pay for all of the services. if all of the assessed values went up - the rate would go down and the amount paid would be the same. On the other hand - if all of the assessed values went down the rate would go up and again the amount paid would be the same. Generally - the tide rises and falls to lift and drop individual property values perportionally the same. That is why entire towns assessments which cost money - are not done very frequently. My point of this was about rates not about what money is spent on. I think we all owe it to ourselves to become informed and do your own research to better understand how it works and more importantly what money is spent on and for. Listening to me or anyone else here on the enquirer might not be the best place to get the information. I hope this helped.
Roll Back Our Tax February 23, 2012 at 07:57 PM
No open house. You think I want my neighbor walking through our house? Don't worry...be happy. Enjoy that Florida sunshine and when you're back in town let's talk.
Roll Back Our Tax February 23, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Tammy...you need to get yourself a position on the Environmental Commission and become friends with the Mayor in Hopatcong...then you will be an informed taxpayer.

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