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Interactive Map: Statewide Report Cards Track Student Performance

NJ education officials release comparative test scores and graduation rates, as well as data putting statistics in broader context

New Jersey education officials yesterday released the annual report cards for the state’s schools, issued for the second year in a revised format that compares performance not only against the state averages but against “peer” schools.

The 2012-13 School Performance Reports include some of the measures – SAT and other test scores, enrollments, graduation statistics -- that have been reported since the state began issuing school report cards in the 1990s.

But they also rate each school, for only the second time, for academic achievement, college and career readiness, and graduation and post-secondary metrics. These latter categories, in which schools are rated from “significantly lagging” to “very high” performance, are provided on individual school narrative reports and not distributed en masse, making it virtually impossible to rank districts in these categories.

That is by design, said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf on Monday in discussing the impending release with reporters. The idea is to provide a “broader context, so the stories are broader than who beat whom.”

Still, those comparisons are often what parents and school officials look for.

Average SAT scores are often used as an indicator of high school performance. As in recent years, the academies operated by many of the county’s vocational districts --- typically smaller schools that attract high-achieving students -- posted the highest average SAT scores in the state, led by Monmouth’s High Technology High School with a mean score of 2162 out of a maximum 2400. The highest scoring non-academy was West Windsor-Plainsboro with a mean score of 1863, for a rank of 11th out of 387 high schools that had scores reported.

For more information on statewide SAT scores, follow this link to NJ Spotlight’s interactive SAT database.

Cerf acknowledged that the release of the report cards, which he said contain “literally millions of bits of data,” draw a lot of attention.

“There’s no question these generate a lot of interest,” he said. “We are committed to continuously improving them.”

After the release of last year’s reports, the department considered feedback from hundreds of educators and made a few changes.

This year, for the first time, the state included data showing student participation in the arts, stating that there is a positive correlation between engagement in the arts and student success. The state also added student performance on International Baccalaureate exams to the results reported for Advanced Placement tests, the percentage of students taking the ACT in addition to the SAT, and data on high school graduates’ enrollment in 2-year and 4-year schools.

In addition to performance, the reports for grades K-8 provide data on student growth percentiles, which look at how the typical student is improving from one year to the next compared with other students at similar achievement levels statewide.

Follow this link to NJ Spotlight’s database of student growth percentiles.

The reports include “peer school” comparisons that match each school with about 30 schools the DOE has deemed to be similar, based on similar grade configurations and comparable student demographics.

“These expanded School Performance Reports provide an important tool for engaging in that critical process,” Cerf said in a statement yesterday on the release of the data. “We believe they offer school communities a foundation for meaningful conversations about their many accomplishments as well as opportunities for positive change.”

The School Performance Reports are what the department releases publicly. But it provides a far broader wealth of information to districts through the NJ SMART system. Districts can use the NJ SMART data to better analyze student performance with an eye toward improvement.

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