"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New Jersey's Punish the Poor Education Steamroller Rolls Over Seniors

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The June graduation of thousands of students could be at risk after most who took New Jersey's retooled alternative exit exam during the winter failed to pass, according to data obtained by the Education Law Center.

In January, 10,308 students statewide took the math Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA), the test given to students who do not pass the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA). Of those students, 9,514 took all required parts of the test and only 34 percent passed, according to the law center's data.

Of the 4,293 who took all required parts of the language arts test, only 10 percent passed.

In Burlington and Camden Counties, 13 percent of students who took all language-arts sections passed. In Gloucester County, the rate was 6 percent, according to the data.

On the math, about one-third passed in all three counties.

Among Camden City students, only 4 percent passed the reading and writing test, and 8 percent passed the math.

The law center has called on the state to treat this year's test as a pilot, as it has other high-stakes tests in their early years, and let local districts determine whether students may graduate this spring while the state reviews the new test process.

"They rolled this out and have been making this up as they have been going along," said Stan Karp, director of the law center's Secondary Reform Project.

Thousands of students might not graduate, and many might just drop out, he said. Most affected will be low-income students, students of color, and nonnative English speakers.

Many students who have struggled through four years of school are very demoralized, educators said.

"I have one student who got accepted to a four-year college on a football scholarship," said Erica Schmid, a Maple Shade teacher. "He doesn't know if he can go."

Deputy Education Commissioner Willa Spicer said it was the schools that the failing students attended that might have some answering to do.

"Somehow, [the students] reached their senior year without mastering fundamental math and language arts skills," Spicer said in a statement. "The schools that failed the students must be held accountable for the results, and we must do a better job of helping students long before their final year of study."

Spicer, who did not try to refute the law center's information but called it "incomplete and unofficial," said the state would not throw out the test scores. If students ultimately fail, she said, they will have been given six chances - three tries each on the HSPA and AHSA - to prove mastery of basic skills. . . .

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