BURLINGTON COUNTY: State reports offer districts mixed bag of test scores

By Geoffrey Wertime, Staff Writer
   The state Department of Education School Report Cards are out, and two local high school districts scored better than state averages on standardized tests.
   Released last week, the report details student performances on standardized tests, mostly in the 2008-2009 academic year.
   In the Bordentown Regional School District, high school students performed slightly above the state average in several categories. On the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) language arts literacy section, the 187 students taking it scored 13.4 percent partial proficiency, or low scoring, 72.7 percent proficient; and 13.9 percent advanced. The state averages were 15.5, 70.9, and 13.6 percent.
   On the HSPA math section, the district students scored 23.7 partial, 56.5 proficient, and 19.9 advanced, as compared to the state averages of 26.4, 50.3, and 23.4.
   In the district, 60 percent of students took the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), as compared to 63 percent statewide. BRSD students scored an average 1,454: 494 math, 482 verbal, and 478 writing. That’s slightly lower than the state average of 1,503: 515 math, 494 verbal, and 494 essay.
   Bordentown High School also had an overall dropout rate of just 0.8 percent versus the state’s average of 1.7 percent, and the school’s graduation rate for the Class of 2009 was 96.7, higher than the state average of 93.3.
   At the regional middle school, students generally outperformed state averages on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) tests, though 32.4 percent of BRSD students scored partially proficient on seventh-grade language arts, while only 27.6 percent of students did statewide. Students in eighth grade outperformed their peers in the state on both the reading and mathematics portions of the National Assessment Educational Progress (NAEP), which were given in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
   The middle school also made large gains in the number of students scoring “advanced” over years past — increases of more than 10 percentage points — on NJASK6 math, NJASK7 language arts, and NJASK8 math, in the latter case with 19.5 students scoring advanced last year and 43.6 percent of them making that designation this year.
   MacFarland Intermediate School students scored below state averages on only two tests — 37.1 versus 26.8 percent partial on NJASK grade four mathematics and 23.4 versus 22.4 percent partial on NJASK grade five mathematics. But students made huge leaps over last year’s district scores on NJASK4 science and NJASK5 language arts, dropping the number of students scoring partial by nearly 10 percentage points over last year and in the case of the science exam, increasing the advanced scores by about that amount.
   Students at the Peter Muschal School scored considerably better than students in the state — only 23.4 percent in the district scored partially proficient compared to 37.1 in the state on NJASK3 language arts, and 16 percent in the BRSD versus 24.6 in the state on NJASK3 mathematics.
   Superintendent Constance Bauer credited some of the district’s success to scrutinizing potential teachers to maximize in-class teaching quality, the support it provides for teachers, and the implementation of new programs like Everyday Mathematics in the lower and middle schools.
   ”We believe the approach of Everyday Mathematics, which really builds students’ critical thinking skills, may be a contributing variable,” she said. “We’re always careful when looking at test scores to remember they’re comparing different students over two years, so we also work to follow students’ progress on a student-by-student basis, especially in areas where we realize some students may not be progressing at the same rate as their classmates.”
   The district, she said, has provided extra help for students who need it and continues to implement new supports.
   ”Overall certainly we’re meeting most students’ learning needs, and we continue to evaluate ways in which we can improve our programs even more,” Dr. Bauer said. “The key is really teacher quality.”
   The Bordentown Regional School District’s average cost per pupil was $13,888 in the 2008-2009 year, as compared to $15,168 in the state.
   In the Florence school district, students generally performed below the statewide average on tests. At Florence Township Memorial High School, HSPA partial scores jumped about 10 percent points higher than they were the year before, and were above state averages.
   District students scored 20.7 percent partial, 72.4 proficient, and 6.9 advanced on the HSPA language arts, as compared to a breakdown of 15.5, 70.9 and 13.6 percent in the state. On the HSPA mathematics, Florence scored 36.5, 53 and 10.4 percent, compared to state averages of 26.4, 50.3 and 23.4 percent.
   The district approached state averages on the SAT with an average score of 1,458: 488 mathematics, 487 verbal, and 483 essay.
   At the Riverfront School, students in the district scored “partially proficient” significantly more frequently than the state — as much as 17.5 percentage points more often — on NJASK tests in all but two exams. They were NJASK8 science, where 8.7 percent of students in the district scored partial versus 15.4 in the state, and NJASK8 language arts, where the district’s partial score was 16.7 percent compared to 17.5 in the state.
   Students in the eighth grade outperformed their peers in the state on the NAEP reading test in 2007 and the mathematics test in 2009.
   At the Roebling Elementary School, students performed slightly below state averages on the NJASK3 language arts and mathematics tests.
   The Florence district spent an average of $13,834 per pupil, less than the state average.
   ”We want to allow students to grow and learn when they’re ready, versus expecting them all to do that at the same time,” said Superintendent Louis Talarico.
   He said the district has put effort into treating students as individuals and respecting a diverse population. The district, he added, has focused on professional development to ensure teachers’ knowledge is up-to-date so they can do the best job possible.
   ”I think the direction and programs we’re offering and the continued professional development for our staff to monitor and adjust to the use of technology as a tool has made learning a priority,” he said.
   ”We’re going to do everything possible to let their minds and talents come through by the time they graduate,” he said.
   The Northern Burlington Regional School District serves middle and high school students from Chesterfield, Mansfield, North Hanover, and Springfield. At the high school, students scored better than peers statewide on both HSPA exams. The breakdown on language arts was 7 percent partial, 79.1 percent proficient, and 13.9 advanced, showing a slight increase in advanced students and a decrease in partial scores from last year. On the math exam, students in the district scored 16.9 percent partial, 65.9 proficient, and 17.2 advanced.
   SAT scores were slightly below others in the state, with an average district score of 1,485 — 498 mathematics, 495 verbal, 492 essay.
   NBCRHS’s dropout rate was just 0.9 percent, and the graduation rate for the Class of 2009 was 97.3 percent.
   At the middle school, students bested state averages on all NJASK and NAEP exams. The district had slightly fewer partial scores than the state in each category on the NJASK and fewer “below basic” or “basic” scores on the NAEP tests.
   NBC’s average total cost per pupil was $16,625, over $1,000 above the state average.
   Superintendent James Sarruda said he was proud of his district’s results, but unsurprised.
   ”I feel like we’ve always done well,” he said. “We have some great academic programs and offerings; we challenge our kids and do some great things.
   ”I feel the most valuable report card is the one I get from the community every month when I go to a parent meeting. It’s the day-to-day comments and feedback people have about Northern Burlington, that people tell me we do a great job here. I appreciate the community support and the attitude and character that students bring to school every day.”
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