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A Promise to Renew: Try, Try Again at Quitman Street Renew School

The packet does not include the good news: On another test, one administered internally to gauge progress from the fall to the spring, more than 80 percent of students met computer-generated growth targets for the year, even though most still fell short of grade-level proficiency. (That test predicted with almost complete accuracy last spring which students would pass the NJ ASK and which ones would not.) And in kindergarten, 62 percent of children ended the year on or above grade level in math, compared with 30 percent the prior September.

Quitman Allen 3
Credit: Amanda Brown
Quitman fifth-grade teacher Jessica Allen speaks to her students in fill-in-the-blank sentences requiring them all to pay attention.

This is the conundrum for educators in low-performing schools across the nation: If a student arrives in fifth grade reading like a first grader and makes three years’ worth of growth, he still will not pass a grade-level state test despite major progress and clearly effective teaching.

Yet grade-level test results are the ones the public understands and were for years what policymakers used to make high-stakes decisions for schools. The system has been evolving, and New Jersey is now evaluating schools and teachers based on students’ growth compared with their peers across the state. Superintendent Anderson, too, says she cares more about growth than overall proficiency numbers. But Glover is keenly aware of how the public perceives his students, and sometimes those perceptions hurt.

At a recent citywide school enrollment fair, Glover found a fact sheet about Quitman stating that the school has a low-performing early childhood education program -- a conclusion based entirely on the NJ ASK scores of older students. In fact, three of Quitman’s teachers in the early grades have been deemed model instructors by the district, meaning that their colleagues from around the city periodically come observe them at work.

Glover has been worried about staff morale, and before the winter holidays, he and his administrative team personally paid for a teacher celebration. “This job is hard,” he said.

Throughout the fall and winter, Glover and his staff hosted three parent nights to inform families about the school’s performance and solicit their help in improving it. About 50 parents in total came, generally those who are the most involved anyway, and vowed to do their part. Glover tries to slip some of the same messaging into other events like student award assemblies that tend to attract bigger crowds.

Under Newark Public Schools’ current reform strategy, Quitman faces competition from an increasing number of charter schools looking to enroll the same students. Kids who perform well and have involved families are most likely to be recruited by high-performing charters. Twenty-one students with proficient scores on the NJ ASK transferred out of Quitman last fall, primarily to high-performing charter schools. One couple told Quitman administrators they saw the chance to attend a charter school as an invaluable opportunity for their older son, but they keep their younger boy in second grade at Quitman.

Last year, Doris Slaughter was approached by two charter schools interested in having her enroll her grandson D’Andre Stevenson, now 11. She discussed the options with the child, who is on Quitman’s honor roll and student council, and together they decided to stay put. D’Andre, a sixth grader, has attended Quitman since pre-kindergarten, and he is comfortable there. Besides, “I don’t think the charter school is that much better,” said Slaughter, who attends virtually all of Quitman’s family meetings and events. “Since he’s doing so great, why mess with it?”

Slaughter said the fact that D’Andre is excelling academically and socially at Quitman is far more important to her than the school’s average test scores. And she said Glover has made great strides in improving the school culture, if not NJ ASK proficiency rates. “He turned it completely around,” she said.

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