Newark School District 4-8 Graders Trail State Average in Reading, Math, Test Results Show

District schools across New Jersey obtained their Start Strong results in December, but the statewide comparisons did not become public until a few weeks ago.

According to an analysis by TAPinto Newark, which compared the district's results to other New Jersey schools that took the assessments, the data revealed Newark district students in grades 4-8 were less than half as likely as students statewide to be able to read at grade level. In Newark, 22.1% of students scored at grade level in ELA compared to 44.8% statewide, for a gap of 22.7 percentage points.

In math, about one-third of district students in grades 4-8 were as likely as students statewide to be able to do math at grade level. An analysis of the test data showed 6.8% of Newark students scored at grade level in math compared to 24% statewide. 

The district’s assessment results, which were presented publicly in November 2021 during a Newark Board of Education meeting, put a spotlight on the coronavirus’ impact on learning as students across the city returned to the classroom this school year for in-person instruction since the onset of the pandemic. 

While it is typical-both in New Jersey and nationally—for students from low-income communities to perform worse academically than students that are not economically disadvantaged, Newark’s charter sector often defies those expectations by producing better than expected results. 

This was the case with the Start Strong results. The city’s charter school students did not fall as far behind, according to the state data. Newark charter schools were within 7 percentage points of the state average in ELA at 38% proficiency, or 16 percentage points ahead of NPS students. For math, charter school students were twice as proficient as the NPS students at 15%, compared with the state’s 24%.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León said during the November meeting where Start Strong results were released. Indeed, this has been the familiar refrain for Mr. Leon upon being presented by data routinely that Newark students are falling further behind. 

The comparison to the state average is only the latest data that indicates how far behind Newark students have fallen. 

Newark students take an additional assessment called the NWEA MAP Growth test. In March, NPS reported that no more than 6% of students in any grade from 3-7 are expected to be proficient on the state math tests that were taken a few weeks ago. In English, about 10% of the students or fewer are expected to reach proficiency in the state exams. The 2022 state exam results will be made public in the summer.

The Start Strong assessment results revealed stark gaps in proficiency in ELA and math in grades 4 and 5. About 69% of ELA students in fourth grade needed “strong support,” according to the results. In math, about 81% of fourth-grade students needed “strong support.” In fifth grade, about 54% of students needed “strong support” in ELA. In math, 87% of students needed “strong support.”

When TAPinto Newark reached the district for comment on Newark’s Start Strong assessment results compared to the statewide average, Rochanda Jackson, executive director of the district’s Office of Policy, Planning, Evaluation & Testing, said the district wasn’t notified by the state Department of Education that the 2021 Start Strong results had been published online in order to compare Newark’s results.

“We have just become aware that [the numbers] are available, and we are processing that data and doing an analysis that we would normally do at the time of the receipt,” Jackson told TAPinto Newark.

In response to Newark’s overall numbers, Jackson noted that the Start Strong results don’t necessarily tell the whole story behind students’ academic performance.

“It’s an assessment that will give you some indication of where students may need some support but not the granular information of what kinds of skills students will need support in,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the district has implemented a number of learning initiatives to get students back on track. These efforts, she said, include implementing afterschool and summer school tutoring, and investing in curriculum changes. The district received nearly $84.2 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) funding and already earmarked millions of dollars in COVID aid to improve student learning, purchasing about $21 million of classroom supplies. According to the district’s spending plan, about $16 million will be dedicated towards enrichment activities.

Professional development will be another key investment for improving learning, according to Jackson.

“We are investing in the professional development of our teachers so that they have a really clear of understanding of the curriculum they need to cover in the year so that students can get the kind of quality education that they need to receive, especially given the stakes right now as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-06 02:19:57 -0700