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2004-2005 Academic Achievement Report Released

The just-released Academic Achievement Report for 2004-2005 shows the minority student achievement gap is narrowing, following sustained efforts by the district for the past several years.

Click for Executive Summary and PDF of presentation of report.Math scores show particular improvement. Since 2004, raising math scores has been one of the top three teaching and learning goals in the district.

The test scores of middle school students, however, still reflect a persistent gap among some subgroups. Eighth grade math scores among African American and Hispanic students in comparison with White and Asian students remain a particular concern.

"The most important thing for people to know about the report is that the achievement gap is starting to narrow. We are not there yet but finally we are seeing progress, and that's great news," said Superintendent Frank Alvarez on Monday. "We've worked really hard for this. The teachers and administrators and parents and of course the kids themselves have worked really hard."

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Terry Trigg-Scales concurred.

"The [minority student achievement] gap is persistent. Administrators all over the country are dealing with this gap," she explained.

For that reason, she said, "These test scores are encouraging. The progress is slow, but it's steady."

At the Board of Education meeting Monday night, Trigg-Scales presented an overview of the 70-page Academic Achievement Report to the board and community.

At the elementary level, both language arts and math test scores from 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 reflect clear gains among some subgroups. Special education scores in both subject areas show significant improvement. Among economically disadvantaged students, math scores have improved. The achievement gap in math has also narrowed between White and African American students.

On the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK), the achievement gap between Grade 3 African American and White students narrowed by 11% in language arts. However, in Grade 4 there is a decrease in the performance of African American students (9%) when compared to the previous years scores in language arts. But between 2002 and 2005, the achievement gap between African American and White fourth graders narrowed by 7 percentage points (from 40% in 2002 to 33% in 2005).

In Grade 5, Terra Nova scores reflect no change in the achievement gap among African American students and a slight decline in performance among Hispanic students in both reading and language. But the gap between general and special education students narrowed significantly -- 21% in reading and15% in language.

Even at the middle school level, where the minority achievement gap remains constant, a 10% increase in language arts literacy and reading scores is noted among grade 7 economically disadvantaged students. Grade 8 students with disabilities showed marked improvement in both math and language arts, and grade 6 students showed improvement in math among all subgroups.

Among eighth graders, math scores continue to reflect a persistent gap, with African American and Hispanic students still performing at a significantly lower level than their Caucasian and Asian peers. However, Terry Trigg-Scales, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, notes that a gap analysis reveals that 59 students tested on the 2004-2005 GEPA (Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment) transferred into the district in the seventh or eighth grade, a significant enough proportion (14%) to affect test scores.

At the high school level, Asian students in grades 9, 10 and 11 made significant progress in both language arts and math. HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) scores also reflect major gains among economically disadvantaged students (30%) compared with last year, and both African American and Hispanic students show higher passing rates (10% and 15% respectively) in both math and language arts.

The report released by the district this week, called the 2004-2005 Academic Achievement Report, is a comparative analysis by subgroup of test results released by the New Jersey Department of Education this past April. It is based on what the state calls Cycle II data. In the district report, the test scores are presented by district, by schools within the district, and over time, as well as by student subgroup and general population.

To determine where gaps persist or are narrowing, test results are broken down by grade level, subject matter and subgroups. Student populations whose scores are analyzed in the report include economically disadvantaged, special education and non-native English speaking, as well as the four ethnic subgroups (African American, White, Hispanic and Asian). Analysis of performance within these categories, or subgroups, is required under the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The data collected is analyzed each year by district administrators see where achievement gaps persist and where they are beginning to narrow. It is then up to the district and the individual schools to develop programs and practices to address problems and to encourage continued growth.

Some of the practices and programs being implemented to boost test scores in all areas include:

  • Curriculum alignment, assessment, targeted instruction and a standards-based math program in the middle schools
  • Standards-based math program and a balanced literacy program in the elementary schools
  • Professional development for regular and special education teachers
  • Agile Mind pilot (math program) to support Algebra 1 students - currently being piloted at Renaissance Middle School and at the high school
  • Curriculum revision in math, science and language arts, K-8
  • Curriculum revision by department at Montclair High School
  • Wilson Teacher Training Program (reading) for all K-3 and special education teachers
  • College advocacy programs for African American and Hispanic students
  • Partnerships with Montclair State University on action research projects, "What's Working?"
  • Increased attention to students learning styles and cultural influences

Promising that the district will continue to direct resources to those programs that have proven successful, Alvarez said, "It's so gratifying to finally be seeing some positive results. We're determined to keep making progress."

Article Date: Dec 20, 2005