The new state testing report has come in, and measurements are being taken in new ways—and Bridgewater-Raritan is solidly in the middle.
“I know that none of our schools are focus or priority schools, and the status is unspecified,” said Cheryl Dyer, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, in a presentation to the board of education Nov. 13. “That’s not a bad thing. It’s OK that we’re just in the middle.”
But with changes to the categories determined by the state Department of Education, more of the plans for improvement are locally controlled, and the deadline for achieving high performance in schools has been extended.
“There is no statewide penalty now if you don’t meet your goals, only penalties locally,” Dyer said. “If you are a district like us, improvement is all under local control, and everything is subject to the approval of the board and administration.”
Dyer said that schools that are labeled as focus or priority schools because of low testing results must submit plans to their local administration detailing how they will improve their systems.
“But we have required all 11 schools to develop school improvement plans regardless of their status because we believe there is always room for improvement,” she said. “This is not different for us, but now it has a specific meaning.”
Another change, Dyer said, is the groupings of students—it was previously based on grades, but now it is based on what grades are in each building.
“So fifth and sixth grades are combined because they live in the same building,” she said.
The same is true for seventh and eighth grades, and kindergarten through fourth grades.
Board vice president Patrick Breslin asked whether there will be consideration if there is a large change in any subgroup or neighborhood.
“What if there is a construction project or a neighborhood goes through a big change?” he asked. “Is there any way to amend the targets?”
Dyer said the state is continuing to review this new process to determine how well it works.
Dyer said there are new formulas being used to determine proficiency levels, and the expectations for future years based on the percentage proficient in a particular content area in the previous year.
And this will all help determine the percentage of students to be labeled as proficient or advanced over the next six years, with the goals expected to be met by 2017.
“This is compared to what used to be in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), with goals of being 100 percent proficient by 2013,” she said. “The state is giving itself more time under this waiver to get students to the level of proficiency.”
Dyer said that, in the entire state, 71.7 percent of students have been determined to be proficient or advanced in language arts. The goal, she said, is to have 85.9 percent proficient by 2017.
For Bridgewater-Raritan, in language arts, the district is 82 percent proficient, with a goal of 91 percent by 2017. For math, the district is currently at 89.2 percent proficient, with a goal of 94.6 percent proficient by 2017.
“If we get to these numbers, we make our performance target,” Dyer said. “If we had a really good year in 2010-2011, the performance targets maybe are higher than they might be if we had aggregated the data. If we had looked at three-year aggregated data, we might not have the same performance targets.”
But based on other figures and data, Dyer said, the district can determine where they have met their goals and where they have fallen short. The new figures, she said, find that Adamsville Primary School, Eisenhower Intermediate School and the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School actually fall short in meeting all goals, and will require school improvement plans to work with students.
“It is interesting to compare our status to last year, and we had more schools with more issues,” she said. “We would have more schools with more issues if we applied the AYP now, and we would have six schools with problems, and more subgroups needing attention.”
“In some ways, this worked to our advantage,” she added. “But the bottom line is if we have students who are not achieving, we want to address that whether or not it creates a red flag on a report.”
In the middle school, those subgroups needing extra attention are African Americans and special education students. In Adamsville, it is special education and economically disadvantaged students, and in Eisenhower, it is economically disadvantaged students.
One of the bigger areas of concern, Dyer said, is among seventh graders, where, throughout the state, the students seem to be in a holding pattern without any real increase in proficiency.
“In seventh grade, there is something not right because the scores are going down or flat, and that is also true for the state,” she said. “I think there is something wrong with the seventh grade tests, but there also has to be something we could be doing about it.”
“In the summer between seventh and eighth grade, everyone becomes a very prolific writer and becomes better,” she added. “There are a lot of advanced proficient, and the mean scale scores are considerably higher. And then we see how well students do in high school, and achievement gets better every year.”
But once they graduate high school, Dyer said, about 97.7 percent are at or above the state standards for language arts, and SAT scores have been very high.
As for advanced placement tests, Dyer said 94.5 percent of students passed their tests with a 3, 4 or 5 in the last year.
“We have increasing participation while maintaining a high level of passing,” she said.
But for now, Dyer said, they really have to look at the middle school and the seventh grade issues.
“There is something systemic,” she said. “Is there something we need to address about the design of the middle school?”
“I feel like we’re putting the report on rerun, and I think we need to do some out-of-the-box thinking and really attack that issue,” she added.
Board president Evan Lerner asked whether the problem could be in part because students are going through changes both physiological and otherwise when they enter the middle school.
“I suspect that in lots of districts, that transition happens, and it could have something to do with this,” he said. “How do we focus on the maturation?”
Dyer said that this is what she means by a system approach to the problem.
“If that is a contributing factor, and it’s not the curriculum, the instruction, the pedagogy, the resources, but there’s something about this change in seventh grade, then we also have to look at what is the appropriate solution to maximize change,” she said.
As for the district as a whole, parent Liz Lande asked whether there is something the residents can do to help the subgroups that have been proven to have problems in testing.
“Is there a way we as a district can reach out to the subgroups?” she asked. “Maybe it’s not academic issues, maybe it’s about eating enough, sleeping, maybe it’s something on a softer side.”
“Can the board look into how we can reach out as a community to help those who have needs?” she added.
Dyer said they do have a program like that in place, but have to determine how well they do.
“Consistently every year that is part of our plans,” she said. “We do have programs in place that are designed to address the needs of students who don’t have the same resources as other students.”
“We have those types of supports in place, and we have to look at how effective they are,” she added.