On February 12th I attended the State Board of Education meeting to listen to the commissioner’s reports on school performance and core curriculum content standards.  The presenters were very knowledgeable in their fields and presented the information in an easy to follow fashion.  Below are the highlights of the meeting.

Dr. Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer, presented the school performance reports.  School performance reports identify strengths and weaknesses on key performance indicators so that local stakeholders can establish goals for improvement.  The performance reports help ask 4 separate questions about each performance measure:

1) How did my school do on the particular measure in terms of its trends and absolute outcomes?

2) How does that compare to schools that educate students like mine?

3) How does that compare to schools across the state?

4) Did I meet the state-wide target for that measure?

Dr. Erlichson provided performance data for one New Jersey school in an effort to illustrate what areas are focused on in these reports.  Key areas include academic achievement, college and career readiness, and student growth.  These reports also include progress targets and peer school comparisons. 

Progress targets are calculated by using 2011 assessment data as a baseline, which includes the outcomes of NJ ASK, HSPA, and the Biology End-of Course exam.  Progress targets measure whether each school is making progress toward the goal of halving the gap between the 2011 assessment data baseline and 100% proficiency by 2017.  The results of these targets should be used by schools to decide on whether or not sufficient progress has been made from year to year.  Since the goal is for all students to graduate high school college and career ready, progress target results should motivate the schools that are behind to strive for progress and support the progress of all subgroups of students in their schools.

Peer school comparisons is a methodology that compares a specific school to 30 similar schools across the state.  What is meant by “similar schools” is one with similar grade configurations, similar demographic characteristics (free/reduced lunch eligibility), limited English proficiency, or special education program participation.  The goal of peer school comparisons is to identify the strengths and areas for improvement for a specific school based on how other schools of its kind are doing.

A large portion of Dr. Erlichson’s presentation revolved around the addition of the arts into the curriculum.  Arts instruction from grade 6 to high school is divided into four areas: dance, music, drama/theater, and visual. Children, especially those who come from poor communities, who are involved in the arts do better academically and are more likely to receive a bachelor’s degree than students with little or no arts involvement.   State regulations required students to take at least one year of arts instruction (about 5 credits) in one of the four areas during high school. Data on the arts is located in the college and career readiness section of the school performance reports and does not include student grades or test scores, rather they provide the percentage of students in each high school who are enrolled in arts courses that would help them fulfill the 5 credit requirement.  

The NJ Department of Education website allows you to view your own school performance reports on your computer.  You can find your school here:  PEF’s analysis of Paterson’s performance reports will be coming soon.