N.J. School Test Results Show Low-Income Urban Students Continue to Struggle

By Tom Hester, Sr. for

Overall school performance improves slightly.

The results of state testing of elementary and high school students during the 2010-11 school year show that while overall performance continued to hold steady or improve slightly in nearly all grades and subjects, a persistent achievement gap remains for economically disadvantaged, African American, and Hispanic students.

Overall statewide performance stayed statistically constant or increased slightly on both the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) test and the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) in both math and language arts literacy, according to information provided by the state Department of Education on Wednesday.

Despite these overall results, what the DOE describes as a significant achievement gap remains for both low income and minority students.

On the NJ ASK test, economically disadvantaged students score 31 percentage points lower than their peers in language arts literacy and 24 percentage points below in math. Both achievement gaps have persisted over time.

On the NJ ASK test, Hispanic students score 27 percentage points below their peers in language arts literacy and African American students score 33 percentage points below. In math, Hispanic students score 20 percentage points below their peers, and African American students score 31 percentage points below.

“We approach these results today with both confidence and humility,” state Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said. “Overall, New Jersey students continue to perform at extremely high levels overall, and with few exceptions the statewide numbers continue to inch upwards. However, we have a persistent achievement gap that leaves our economically disadvantaged, African American, and Hispanic students far behind their peers. It is a disgraceful legacy in New Jersey that leaves tens of thousands of students behind each year – and has for decades. We must be honest with ourselves and our communities about this achievement gap, and be impatient and relentless in doing everything we can to close it once and for all.”

Educators maintain the results have significant consequences for students later in life. On average, a college graduate will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime. Between 1998 and 2008, the job market has drastically shifted in favor of those with a college degree. During that time period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 10 million jobs were created for those with a college degree, while 600,000 jobs were lost that did not require a high school degree. Lastly, high school dropouts are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime than a college graduate.

“This achievement gap is the most significant issue that we face in education as a state,” Cerf said. “Without a quality education, we are not providing tens of thousands of students the chance they need to succeed in life. During the past year, we have begun to put in place a number of reforms that will not only help our lowest-performing students, but that will help all New Jersey students continuously improve. Education reform is not a zero sum game. We can all improve to make sure every child is truly ready for the demands of the 21st century.”

Cerf said that through its federal No Child Left Behind Waiver application, the DOE has outlined a plan in the following three areas:

• Full implementation of the Common Core State Standards that began this year and will include K-8 math and English language arts by 2013.

• Development of a new accountability system and the development of 7 regional achievement centers that will focus on the state’s persistently lowest-performing schools.

• Creation of a more fair, consistent, and learning-centered teacher evaluation system that will help all teachers, regardless of experience, continuously improve their practice. Eleven districts are currently piloting and helping to develop the new evaluation system, with full implementation planned for 2013-14.

In addition, Cerf said, the DOE has begun a push to reduce bureaucratic regulations and red tape that prevents districts and schools from focusing on student achievement. The Education Transformation Task Force completed its interim report in September and the final report expected soon.

The Christie administration is currently pursuing legislation that would change the evaluation system for public school teachers, something the Democratic-controlled Legislature opposes.

Students take the NJ ASK test in grades 3 through 8 in both language arts literacy and math. The scoring scale for all grade tests is 100-300. Students achieving a score of 200 are deemed proficient; students achieving a score of 250 or greater are deemed advanced proficient. Students take the HSPA test in 11th grade, with three opportunities to pass the test.

Assessment results can be found at: and