WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange students scored above the state average on last year’s PARCC exam, and above the average in the 11 other states in the PARCC Consortium.
A higher percentage of West Orange students in grades three through eight earned passing scores on most subject tests than the average percentage of New Jersey students and students in the 11 other states and District of Columbia that make up the consortium, according to the PARCC results presented at the Jan. 4 West Orange Board of Education meeting. The district’s third- through eighth-graders scored higher than their counterparts on every English/language arts and mathematics test, except for grade-eight math.
For the English/language arts test: in third grade, 58 percent of students in West Orange passed compared to 44 percent in the state and 38 percent in the consortium; in fourth grade, 60 percent in West Orange passed compared to 51 percent in the state and 42 percent in the consortium; in fifth grade, 58 percent in West Orange passed compared to 51 percent in the state and 40 percent in the consortium; in sixth grade, 63 percent in West Orange passed compared to 49 percent in the state and 39 percent in the consortium; in seventh grade, 61 percent in West Orange passed compared to 52 percent in the state and 52 percent in the consortium; and in eighth grade, 62 percent in West Orange passed compared to 51 percent in the state and 42 percent in the consortium.
For the mathematics test: in third grade, 60 percent of students in West Orange passed compared to 45 percent in the state and 38 percent in the consortium; in fourth grade, 49 percent in West Orange passed compared to 40 percent in the state and 32 percent in the consortium; in fifth grade, 50 percent in West Orange passed compared to 41 percent in the state and 32 percent in the consortium; in sixth grade, 48 percent in West Orange passed compared to 41 percent in the state and 32 percent in the consortium; in seventh grade, 41 percent in West Orange passed compared to 37 percent in the state and 29 percent in the consortium; and in eighth grade, 16 percent in West Orange passed compared to 24 percent in the state and 27 percent in the consortium.
When further broken down into the five levels of expectations — not yet meeting, partially meeting, approaching, meeting and exceeding — a majority of the scores fall into the meeting expectations category across all grade levels and subjects. Only grade-seven math, which showed a tie of 33 percent each between meeting expectations and approaching expectations, and grade-eight math’s 28 percent approaching expectations majority differed.
The scores of West Orange’s grades nine through 11 students were much closer to the average New Jersey and consortium scores. Only West Orange’s algebra I and algebra II students topped the average scores of the other New Jersey and consortium students taking those tests. According to the results, 42 percent of West Orange algebra I students passed compared to 36 percent of New Jersey students and 31 percent of consortium students; while 36 percent of West Orange algebra II students passed compared to 24 percent of New Jersey students and 21 percent of consortium students.
Other than that, West Orange students in grades nine through 11 scored on par or below average next to New Jersey and the consortium results. Only 18 percent of West Orange’s geometry students passed compared to 23 percent of New Jersey students and 27 percent of consortium students. And on the English/language arts test: in the ninth-grade, 32 percent of West Orange students passed compared to 39 percent in New Jersey and 40 percent in the consortium; in the 10th-grade, 36 percent in West Orange passed compared to 36 percent in New Jersey and 37 percent in the consortium; and in the 11th-grade, 32 percent in West Orange passed compared to 41 percent in New Jersey and 39 percent in the consortium.
Of course, these results were likely impacted by the fact that 762 West Orange High School students refused to take the PARCC exam. For instance, the results show that only 66 students took the 11th grade English/language arts test, likely skewing the scores.
Overall, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky told the West Orange Chronicle that the district is pleased with the PARCC results, especially the performance of its third- through eighth-graders. Rutzky said that success can be directly attributed to the hard work teachers and administrators put in last year to prepare students for the new computer-based exam. By aligning the curriculum to the Common Core — the educational standards upon which PARCC is based — as well as implementing programs such as SuccessMaker to introduce classes to the types of questions on the exam, he said the district made sure students knew what to expect from the PARCC testing. And this was the most important thing it could have done, he said.
“It’s important anytime you’re doing something brand new, especially with students, that you make sure they are very comfortable going into that exam,” Rutzky said in a Jan. 12 phone interview. “I think the results show that our kids did very well because we did a lot of work and preparation to make sure they really were comfortable. They knew how to answer things. They knew how to read on a computer device, because that (had been) new to the kids.”
While high school students seemed not to do as well as the elementary and middle schoolers, Board of Education President Laura Lab pointed out that the low number of test-takers in the high school made their results “statistically insignificant.” To base how the high school is doing on those scores would be unfair, Lab said.
“The high school results are not a reflection of the students or the school as most students did not take the test,” Lab told the Chronicle in a Jan. 11 email. “In certain grades, the students who did not take the PARCC scored proficient or advanced proficient the year before.”
Moving forward, Rutzky said the district plans to analyze the PARCC results — including the fact that general education, white and Asian students scored significantly higher than special education, black and Hispanic students — in conjunction with district benchmarks, common assessments and classroom assessments to determine what can be done to help students from the individual level to the grade level.
What is certain, the superintendent said, is that the district plans to continue its infusion of technology into daily learning. He said staff will continue to receive extensive training on how to incorporate technology into their lesson plans, while the district wants to provide devices and software to the elementary schools just as it has already done for WOHS and the middle schools. Such a push is necessary, he said, because technology is an invaluable resource to which future generations need to become adjusted.
“We have to really understand that kids are growing up and graduating high school and moving into a world that’s different from when I was a student,” Rutzky said. “We have to prepare students for the digital world.”
But although West Orange students did relatively well on the PARCC exam, there is no guarantee more students will take it next year. Rachel Gordon, a township parent who has spoken out against PARCC previously as co-founder of West Orange Cares About Schools, said her son will once again refuse to participate in this year’s testing because she does not feel the test is beneficial enough to be worth his time. As a teacher in New York, Gordon explained that the results only show educators their students’ scores without any indication of what areas need improvement — something which Rutzky said was also a disappointment in New Jersey. And considering that students have already graduated to the next grade level by the time scores are released, she said she does not see how PARCC testing is useful.
If she had her way, Gordon said she would have PARCC include a breakdown of the results so that teachers and parents can know what students should work on or how they can further excel. She added that PARCC should also be more transparent about how it determines what scores are considered passing.
Above all, the West Orange Cares About Schools co-founder said she hopes the district will simply avoid spending classroom time on test preparation.
“Personally, I would love to see them not do any test prep,” Gordon told the Chronicle in a Jan. 10 phone interview. “Maybe they can offer it as an optional program after school. But they should focus on doing classroom work.”
Though he feels strongly that getting students used to the exam was essential last year, Rutzky said focusing on PARCC no longer needs to be emphasized since students now know what to expect. Just like last year though, he said teachers will still work with their classes to master the Common Core standards, which are still in effect for N.J. schools despite the fact that Gov. Chris Christie announced his intention to do away with them last year. As a result, he said students will be preparing for the testing while doing their classwork since PARCC is closely tied to the Common Core.