The Lacey Township School District is striving to have 100 percent of its students proficient in Language Arts and Mathematics.
Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vanessa Clark on Monday presented the district’s annual academic achievement report, which showed where the district stands in comparison to the state.
“Lacey is one of 2,500 schools that are not ranked, not categorized and not ranked in any way,” Brower said. “They’re not ranked because the state department believes that we’re doing it right and by doing it right we have the autonomy to begin to set new goals for ourselves to constantly be better than we were the year before.”
The district measures academic achievement using state testing scores as well as Advanced Placement and SAT exam results, college acceptance rates and the state’s school report card.
Although the state will be using new provisions for accountability and away from the school report card moving forward, she said, the latest report card data was used in this district report.
With New Jersey waived from some of the requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, the state will measure success according to three categories of schools: priority (75 of the lowest performing schools), focus (183 schools to receive targeted intervention) and reward (112 of the highest performing schools).
Because Lacey does not fall in of those categories, the district has the ability to set its own goals toward improvement, Brower said.
"We Are Not Alone"
Brower broke down Lacey’s achievement according to grades, starting with third through eighth and then eleventh. The district was divided by the general and special education populations and then compared to the state.
For example, in grade three, 77.5 percent of the general education population was proficient in Language Arts based on the NJASK scores while 46.1 percent of the special education population was proficient. Both populations were just above the state average.
“Our position is that we always want to outperform the state, always,” she said.
Third grade is a focus for the district for this school year.
“We know that students who are not proficient readers at third grade have a four times more likely chance of not graduating high school,” she said.
There were 96 students who did not receive proficiency in the 2011-12 school year; 58 were general education students and 35 were special education students. About half were economically disadvantaged, she said.
“We expect that all of our students will be proficient on the state and now on the Common Core standards,” she said. “That’s our goal, that’s our target.”
Brower noted that there is a large achievement gap between the general and special education populations.
“We are not alone. Every single school in the state, every single school in this country, when they are taking a look at this aggregated data are struggling with achievement gaps,” she said. “We would suggest that all of our students should be achieving the same or greater than obviously our general education students.”
In fifth grade, for Language Arts, while 78.9 percent of general education students were proficient, an uptick from the previous year, only 31.3 percent of special education students were proficient, a decrease from 2010-11.
“Something’s going on here,” Brower said.
In those cases, the district is meeting with Director of Special Services Michael Maschi to discuss what’s happening with the special education students in that age group, she said.
Brower also noted problems in the seventh and eighth in Language Arts where both the general and special education populations saw decreases in proficiency.
In Math for seventh grade, both the general and special education populations are below the state average—63.3 percent of general education students and 22.1 percent of special education students were proficient.
“We’re going to put in some processes to figure out what’s going on,” Brower said. “We definitely have a focus to place on this grade level.”
Brower has been talking with middle school administration and the school district supervisors to identify the problem and set goals, she said.
“There are trends out there that are telling us there’s some struggles at the middle. First of all, at the middle, we may lose them as test takers anyway,” Brower said.
Lacey resident Gary Vacarro was concerned over the significant drop in student achievement from elementary school to the middle school.
“Maybe it needs to be more challenging at younger grades. Maybe you want to see lower proficiency at the lower levels so you can see a higher proficiency at the higher grade levels,” he said.
This school year’s test scores may prove to be interesting as a modified block schedule was put into place at the middle school, allowing for more time in math, Clark said.
The district also underperformed compared to the state in eleventh grade. The general and special education populations came in under the state average—80.6 percent of general education students and 33.3 percent of special education students were proficient.
But the district did have some high notes too with 72 percent of special education students proficient in math in grade six as well as in eighth grade at 85.4 percent, both significantly higher than the state average and not too far off from the general education population results.
For 2012 SAT scores, in reading, the district is on par with the state and country; in writing, the district is just behind the state but even with the country; and in math the district outperformed the state and country.
Scores in each subject have increased over the years, Brower said.
Brower also pinpointed the following:
- For Advanced Placement, 83 students achieved three to five scores (five being the highest). In 2011, there were 60 students.
- In 2012, there were 119 students accepted into a four-year college, 168 accepted into a two-year college, 24 into trade school and seven went into the military.
- Enrollment has declined approximately 5 percent since 2009.
- The district has a 90.77 percent graduation rate.
- The district has a 2.4 percent drop out rate compared to the state’s 1.4 percent.
- The attendance rate was at 90.9 percent for the high school in 2010-11 compared to the states 94.6 percent.
"The Educators Are Committed"
The school district will be working to decrease partial proficiency in half over six years, Brower said.
The goal is 100 percent proficiency for all students, Clark said. Now that the district has evaluated its data, it will be putting together an action plan, examine instruction and create data overviews while also building assessment literacy and collaborative work.
Principals will be creating school progress goals, which will outline performance targets using individual data and cohort data, Clark said.
They will also utilize Measures of Academic Progress NWEA-MAPS and NJ SMART individual student assessment records and cohort profiles.
The state and district will now be using a growth model rather than receiving data late on students who have advanced to the next grade, she said.
Students will be tested in the fall and again in the spring, she said.
Some areas the district is already working on include:
- The district is currently realigning its K-12 curriculum for English Language Arts and Math with the Common Core Standards, an initiative that is to provide consistent and clear understanding of what students are expected to learn.
- Data Review Teams are being developed to look at and analyze data.
- Approximately 72 students participated in a SAT bootcamp. All juniors will be taking the PSAT this year and the school district will be evaluating that data to determine how often SAT bootcamps need to be held. SAT preparation is also built into course offerings.
- The district will be implementing a Drop Out Intervention Program. The program will be handled on an individual basis. They will be putting processes in place to bring students back to school and graduate.
- Approximately 83 students are participating in the Lacey Online Learning Academy, which provides the students with more educational opportunities.
- With many new programs in place, the district will be spending time training its staff with professional development.
- Ensuring that all students have the opportunity to take rigorous courses not only at the high school level but even as early as fifth grade.
We’re not afraid to show our warts. We’re not afraid to show our greatness,” Board member William Quist said. “It tells us where we’ve been, it tells us where we are and it’s certainly a plan to where we want to go. I can tell you this district, the administrators, the educators are committed.”
Residents showed concerns over the drop out rate, questioning the increase.
Various factors go into the drop out rate such as students who got behind early on, some who have to work to help provide for their family and others who get involved in other activities showing little interest in school.
High School Principal James Handschuch is looking into this extensively but the decisions are individualized, Brower said.
"We're taking a very serious look at it," she said. “We have a profile of every student who left Lacey High School last year. I have their names on my desks…its one person by one person. It’s not as easy as talking about our test scores for fifth grade of third grade.”
Technology could be the key, resident Tony Risoli said, recommending the district use its Lacey Online Learning Academy to help those on the cusp of dropping out.
“Because you’ve changed some methods of education, perhaps those new technologies in what your saying is your new approach to drop out rates and attendance can be utilized as incentive to kids to not necessary to have to come to school and be educated and get a diploma from Lacey Township,” he said.
“We’re taking it person by person, student by student,” Brower said. “We’re putting together a Drop Out Intervention Program where it’s not going to be as easy as where do I sign.”
Even though the district is implementing an action plan, parents need to get involved as well, Board member Frank Palino said.
“It’s really a three-way process in what goes on in learning. It’s the educators that take stock in the child but really the parents and the child can take stock in their own learning,” he said. “We need parents to really help the educators to help their child.”
Please return to Lacey Patch for a copy of Brower's powerpoint presentation on academic achievement once it's made available.