By Brenda Flanagan
If you’re curious about how your kid’s school stacks up, the truth is out there. New Jersey’s Department of Education issued Performance Reports for the 2015-2016 school year. And again you’ll find some changes with new information about students and teachers.
You can access every school’s Performance Report online and click open a wealth of data. For starters, you can check whether kids even go to school with a brand new graphic for elementary students. Click on the College and Career Readiness tab. You’ll find a chart showing “Chronic Absenteeism” with two years’ worth of data. It’s an important trend to watch.
“You talk to educators and they say that one of the biggest things that gets in the way is the kids aren’t there. And 18 days is a lot of days. I mean, if you think about it we’re talking a good month of the year potentially and that clearly is going to have an impact,” said John Mooney, education writer and founder of NJ Spotlight.
To find out whether teachers go to class, click on the School Climate tab, and check “Faculty Attendance.” Statewide, median teacher attendance hit about 97 percent but some reports include eye-popping mistakes. Take Newark, which showed zero percent attendance, which the district admitted is obviously an error. The info’s self-reported and Newark noted most schools logged teacher attendance at over 90 percent. Parents and education advocates asked for this data.
I’ve seen firsthand where kids are being taught by subs all year and that makes a huge difference. These are not trained teachers and I think the value of it is it raises a red flag on schools that have a real problem,” Mooney said.
Most parents want to know whether kids are learning the basics — in language arts and math. Go to the Academic Achievement tab, and you can see the percentage of students who met expectations and how they did on test scores, compared to the rest of the state. What you won’t find this year is comparisons to so-called peer schools.
“It drove educators crazy and it was something that people are looking at and they’re saying, ‘Hey! We’re not doing as well as this set of schools that I’ve never heard of!’ And so there was a fair amount of backlash and they said rather than try to continue and fix this, let’s just do away with it,” Mooney said.
Finally, the high schools’ test results include SAT scores — New Jersey students averaged 1075 out of a possible 1600. But this year’s report also includes ACTs for the first time. The info’s all listed under the College and Career Readiness tab and it documents a shift in test preferences.
“As more and more kids and colleges get more and more competitive, everyone is taking as many tests as they can, so why not include them as well,” Mooney said.
You can find graduation and dropout rates under the Grad tab. And the state wants to know what you think of its upgraded report. There’s an online survey you can fill out and submit. The link is right there on the Performance Report’s homepage. As New Jersey launches its new plan for ESSA, or Every Student Succeeds Act, it’s setting an ambitious goal: for 95 percent of all students to graduate from high school by the year 2030.
WEB EXTRA: Watch the full interview with NJ Spotlight CEO and Founding Editor John Mooney.