State Readies New School Report Cards

John Mooney | November 14, 2011 | Education
Details are few, but new system favors rankings and like-to-like comparisons

Get ready to see how every local public school in New Jersey stacks up, at least according to the state.

The Christie administration will unveil this week a plan for new school report cards that will rate every public school in New Jersey both statewide and against their peers on overall achievement, gaps in achievement, and specific academic targets.

The proposed School Performance Reports are one piece of the state’s application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, due by the end of today.

But whether the application is approved or not, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf said yesterday that the administration would pursue the new system regardless, saying it would provide a better accounting than the current system that lists detailed scores but little in the way of rankings.

“At a glance, it will let educators and parents know where a school stands,” Cerf said in an interview. “Even if the school is doing OK, it will be a tool that will be profoundly more valuable than what we have now.”

The new reports are just one of several components in the waiver application that has dominated the administration’s education docket for the last month, much of it following the federal guidelines that will require states pull out the lowest-achieving schools and impose certain interventions.

Cerf did not provide much new on those plans yesterday, saying the details will be rolled out this week. But an outline of the application released last week said the state would provide a menu of options for what will be roughly the 200 lowest- performing schools, ranging from strategic programs to wholesale overhauls of leadership and staff.

For the remaining 2,200-plus schools in the state, the specific metrics for how they will be rated remain in development, and Cerf pledged a “statewide discussion” that will delve into different models.

He said yesterday that he leans against using letter grades for individual schools, much like those imposed in his former job as deputy chancellor of New York City schools.

At least in the beginning, Cerf said New Jersey would instead rank schools in terms of what percentile they fall into in three different categories: overall achievement growth, disparities in achievement between different student categories, and other targets like graduation rates.

And schools will be rated not only statewide but also their comparable socio-economic peers — pitting suburban schools against suburban schools and urban against urban. Cerf added there will be a brief narrative written by the state that also explains each school’s standing.

What happens to schools based on their standings will be largely up to their districts, since the administration has said it would step back in its regulation of schools that are not in the lowest percentiles. The highest achieving and those showing the most progress in closing achievement gaps also will be openly promoted, including possible cash rewards.