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NJ SMART to Track Students Through High School -- and Beyond

School data system to assess who graduates, who drops out, and why.

The aspect of NJ SMART -- the state's school data system -- that has gotten the most attention is its promised ability to link individual teachers to student test scores. That linkage is at the center of Gov. Chris Christie's proposals to revamp how teachers are evaluated and ultimately granted or denied tenure.

But the information the system will deliver about the students themselves may well be just as compelling and revealing.

Starting next school year, NJ SMART will begin reporting detailed data on graduation rates for every high school -- including what happened to students who didn't finish, officials said.

According to assistant education commissioner Bari Erlichson, the state’s chief school data expert, NJ SMART also will collect and report information on college matriculation. That is expected to include the percentage of a graduating class that enrolls in college within 16 months and completes its freshman year within the first two years.

Surveying Students

College-bound rates are now collated from student surveys that list intentions, not actual attendance. But links between NJ SMART and nationwide higher education databases will show the reality, said Erlichson.

In time, the state will also have data on college completion, student majors, and the percentage of students who needed remediation, Erlichson added. It may even be broken down by gender, income and other specifications that can help shape a school’s curriculum.

Speaking in a presentation to the state Board of Education on Wednesday, Erlichson described how a district will know, for example, how many of a school's female graduates vs. male graduates go on to be science majors.

All of this is being made possible by a data system that has been in development for nearly a decade, officials said.

The full capability of NJ SMART is still not there, Erlichson said Wednesday, but the key parts are on track to meet the federal deadlines.

The chief one is the ability to match teachers to the test scores of their students. The state had to promise that capability in order to receive federal education stimulus funds in 2010. The deadline to deliver that feature is September 2012.

"I think we are well positioned to meet the deadlines," Erlichson said.

The state is currently ready to report on graduation rates, another federal requirement. The goal is to provide a clear assessment of who graduates high school and who drops out -- and for what reasons.

New Jersey has the highest graduation rate in the country, by several counts. But many say the 80-plus percent is inflated by a system that undercounts those who leave school.

Under the new system, Erlichson said every child is being tracked in a central database from ninth grade through graduation, starting with 2007, when the class of Class of 2011 were freshmen.

The data will include those who graduate early and those takes an extra year, those who switch to private school and those who move out of state, and those who pass the state’s mainstream exit exam or those who graduate after taking the alternative exam.

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