WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education was presented with results of the PARCC standardized testing at its Oct. 16 meeting. This is the first year that year-to-year results — from 2015 and 2016 — could be compared.
Students from third through 11th grade took the state-mandated test in English language arts and literacy; students in third through eighth grade took PARCC math assessments; and high school students took end-of-course assessments in algebra I, geometry and algebra II.
The results of the PARCC testing are broken down into five levels. Level 1 is the lowest indicator of achievement, or “not yet meeting grade-level expectations,” and Level 5 is the highest, described as “exceeding grade-level expectations.” In both 2016 and 2015, West Orange students in grades three through eight scored higher than the state average in English language arts. Students in grades nine through 12 scored at or below the state average in 2015, and in 2016 students in grades nine and 10 scored below the state average again while 11th-graders scored slightly above average.
On the math portion of the test, West Orange students in grades three through seven scored above the state average in both 2015 and 2016, while eighth-graders were below average both years. High school math PARCC scores varied depending on the year. In 2015, West Orange’s passing rate in algebra I was 42 percent, above the state average of 36 percent. That number dropped to 40 percent in 2016 while the state average rose to 41 percent. In geometry testing, the district’s average rose from 18 to 28 percent passing, while the state average also went up from 23 to 27 percent. The most significant drop in West Orange was in algebra II testing, where in 2015 the passing rate was 36 percent, but in 2016 was only 10 percent.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky, who has said that he is not in favor of PARCC testing, addressed the statistics during a presentation of the information at this week’s meeting. Board President Sandra Mordecai expressed concern about the low math results, saying, “When I looked at these scores, the one thing I noticed was that math significantly dropped.”
Rutzky said that, during a meeting with the district’s mathematics supervisor last week, the administration discussed when algebra should be introduced to students in school.
“One of the important parts that we have to examine is when algebra is being taught, when is it starting in elementary? How often is it being taught? Algebra doesn’t begin in eighth grade, it’s down through the elementary schools,” he said.
Rutzky also made a point of saying that the math scores did not drop drastically, but were only different by a few percentage points in the whole district.
“I want to be careful when we say that the math scores dropped a lot — a couple of percentage points is not a lot,” Rutzky said. “We have to look at our middle school and high school. But again, it does not start in middle school and high school. We have to dig deeper and figure out what’s happening and we’re going to do that with a comprehensive evaluation of the math program.”
Mordecai was also concerned about the gap in scores between the different subgroups of students within West Orange. Black students had lower average test scores than white students, and special education students had lower scores than both other groups.
“You have to be careful, because when you’re talking about very few students versus a lot of students, there are a lot of factors that go into it,” Rutzky said, also pointing out that one student could belong to more than one subgroup. “But this is something that we focus on every single year. This year with the PARCC what we look at is the longitudinal work that needs to be done — how did this student do two years ago, last year, this year. That’s important work.”
Board Vice President Irv Schwarzbaum also commented on the importance of looking at students’ scores over a period of time instead of isolated year by year.
“When we talk about longitudinal analysis, which would be comparing the same students over years, again we see the same downward trends in math,” he said. “So we really need to look at what’s causing that and what we can do to improve it.”