Poor performance holds up school’s passing grade

Eighth-grade class GEPA math test scores did not
meet state standards

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

Eighth-grade class GEPA math test scores did not
meet state standards
By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

MONMOUTH BEACH — The failure of last year’s eighth-graders to score a passing grade on the state-mandated math test has resulted in the Monmouth Beach School being only conditionally certified until June 30.

At that time, the county superintendent of schools will re-evaluate the school’s math standing and make a recommendation to the state commissioner of education regarding certification, according to the notification sent to the Board of Education from a monitoring team that visited the district Oct. 29. If certification isn’t granted, the school district could be given an extended amount of time to correct deficiencies or be placed in Level II monitoring.

The West Long Branch school district also failed to measure up to the state minimum standard in the Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA) math test administered last year, but because it was not undergoing the periodic monitoring done by the state, its certification was not affected.

The Oceanport school district, the other sending district to Shore Regional High School along with Monmouth Beach and West Long Branch, received a passing school grade on the GEPA math test.

Monmouth Beach School Superintendent Neil Frankenfield disputed the results of the (GEPA) test administered last year as they pertained to math, but after a review, the state Department of Education found there was nothing wrong with the test or the scores. Only 62.1 percent of the eighth-graders were found to be proficient or advanced proficient in the test, whereas the state demands that 75 percent fall into those categories to be considered passing.

West Long Branch Superintendent Joan Kelly similarly disputed the scores posted by her eighth-graders on math and was turned down as well. Only 59.2 percent of the eighth-graders there were found to be proficient or advanced proficient.

The GEPA test is developed by the NCS Pearson company, which scores the machine-scorable answers, such as those from multiple choice questions, according to the state Department of Education. The department said Pearson subcontracts the scoring of essay questions to Measurement Inc.

Both Frankenfield and Kelly were perplexed by the scoring and said it didn’t make sense because their students had passed the GEPA test in the past.

"You tend to believe there’s something not accurate with the state test," Frankenfield said. "The same eighth-grade received a commendation from the state for their test scores in language arts and science.

"You have to exceed the 90th percentile to be commended," he noted. One hundred percent of the Monmouth Beach students were found to be proficient or advanced proficient in language arts, and in science it was 93.1 percent.

"I’m disappointed that this one year our math scores were low," he said. "On everything else we did very well in the monitoring."

The test was given in March and the results were sent to the district in the summer.

There were 32 eighth-graders last year and there are 35 this year.

Frankenfield said the school now has to come up with a plan for how to get the eighth-graders to score at the 75th percentile on future tests. He said school officials have reviewed the curriculum guide, the text book and other materials. They also have consulted with West Long Branch and Oceanport, and visited Shore Regional High School, he continued.

"We’re looking at additional materials," he said. "We have children who volunteer from the career high school and Shore Regional on Wednesday and Thursday to help the students with their homework.

"These are steps we have taken which we would have done anyway to improve the program," he added. "I’m really pleased with the direction we’re headed."

Kelly said the problem with the eighth-grade math test isn’t just local — it’s statewide. She said a lot of districts were having a problem with it.

Kelly said West Long Branch hadn’t changed its program and in the previous two years, since her arrival in the district, the students did very well.

"It’s the same program, the same format, the same teachers," she noted. "Of course, the variable is the students. We did have seven new students transfer into the district in the seventh and eighth grade, and only one scored proficient."

Kelly said her school also has a homework club for students with Monmouth University students helping them to learn.

She said teachers in the district are now looking at new materials to possibly use, but they were going to do that anyway.

"I think it’s a fluke," she said, "because so many districts in the state had a problem."

Both Frankenfeld and Kelly said their eighth-graders performed satisfactorily on the math placement test administered by Shore Regional High School.

When Shore Regional Superintendent/Principal Leonard G. Schnappauf was asked how the students, as freshmen, were faring in their math classes at the high school, he said he couldn’t provide an answer because the school doesn’t separate the students from one school and compare them to another.

"We try to put them in classes where they will do well," he said. "They take the placement test, the scores go to guidance, then they, with their parents, choose what courses to take."

James DiGiovanni, superintendent of schools in Oceanport, where 93.5 percent of the students tested as proficient or advanced proficient in math on the GEPA test last year, said the district’s scores over the past few years have not been greatly different. He attributed the district’s success to being very fortunate to have very strong math teachers at that grade level.

"The curriculum director and teachers have selected very good programs to use," he added. "I think the teachers received a lot of in-service training, workshops on instructional techniques. I think that’s why we did well."

"However," he said, "in speaking with a lot of superintendents, there were concerns about the math GEPA results because in several districts they dropped quite a bit."

If there’s a poor score in math on the GEPA test in only one year, and students score well in other tests, it could be just a happenstance, he said.

"You want to take a look at the whole picture," he said. "If you do well on everything else but one test, it may only be a blip."