It used to be that New Jersey's county vocational-technical schools offered half-day programs for students who were more likely to go to work as mechanics or hair stylists than to go to college.
Today's vo-techs now operate some of the most elite public schools in New Jersey and the nation. U.S. News and World Report ranked Biotechnology High School in Freehold, part of the Monmouth County Vocational School District, 11th best in the nation and best in New Jersey among public schools. High Technology High School in Lincroft, another MCVSD school, ranked 20th nationally. Bergen County Academies, part of the Bergen County Technical Schools district, boasts thirty-six 2015 National Merit Semifinalists in a school with about 250 students in each grade level. These schools are smaller than the typical public school and more selective, requiring entrance exams as part of a competitive application process.
So it's not surprising that these academies had the highest total-mean-scores during the past school year on the Scholastic Aptitude Test that students take as part of the college application process. High Technology High topped the list with a mean of 2195 out of a possible 2400. (Scores are for seniors and members of the class of 2014.) Its total enrollment was just 286 students, with an enviable 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio in 2013-2014. Six other schools had mean scores higher than 2000: Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering in Morris County Vocational; Bergen County Academies; Biotechnology High in Monmouth; Middlesex County Vocational Academy of Math, Science and Engineering Technology; Union County Magnet High School; and Academy of Allied Health and Science in Monmouth.
But what about the comprehensive New Jersey public high schools (without competitive admission requirements) that most students attend? How well did their students do? Here, according to data from the most recent School Performance Reports released by the state Department of Education, are the ones with the highest SAT scores:
In Essex County, Millburn has the ninth-highest median household income in New Jersey and is the wealthiest community on this list. It's not surprising that a wealthy school would be at the top of the list, since wealth has traditionally been a good indicator of student performance in school. More than 85 percent of students scored at least 1550 on the SAT, a benchmark the DOE says indicates a high likelihood of college success and completion. Millburn High's total enrollment was 1,531 students. While ranking tops among the all-purpose public schools, its SAT median was 12th highest overall in New Jersey.
This used to be considered a regional school, accepting students from both the borough and the township before they merged to form a single school district in 2013. Home of New Jersey's Ivy League university, Princeton is both a well-educated and wealthy community. Eight of 10 students who took the SAT scored at least 1550. The school had 1,460 students last year.
Located in Princeton Junction, the larger of two schools in the Mercer County regional district, with 1,609 students, which had been considered among the wealthiest districts in the state under the DOE's District Factor Group system. Nearly 84 percent of students scored at least 1550 on the SAT. It ranked 14th overall statewide.
This Bergen County school has the smallest enrollment of all the general public high schools on this list, with 1,160 total students. More than 82 percent of those tested scored at least 1550 on the SAT. Its median SAT ranked 16th overall in New Jersey. U.S. News and World Report ranked it 301st best nationally, 18th best in the state.
The other high school in the regional district lagged by just 8 points. Located in Plainsboro, North has an enrollment of 1,548. Its median SAT placed it 17th overall in the state and almost 81 percent of students scored at least 1550.
The sprawling Somerset County township where this high school is located had the 15th-highest median household income in the state -- about $152,000, according to U.S. Census data. It has 1,720 students and about 84 percent of those who took the SAT scored 1550 or more. Its median SAT score ranked 18th overall in New Jersey.
The second Bergen high school on the list, this school in an affluent suburb -- 24th-highest median income in the state -- had almost 78 percent of its students score at least 1550 on the SAT. Ridgewood's total enrollment is 1,703. Its median SAT score ranked 21st overall in the state.
Another school in northern Bergen County, this is one of two high schools in the district. The Demarest high school enrolls 1,243 students from Demarest, Closter, and Haworth. Three-quarters of those who took the SAT scored 1550 or higher. Its median SAT was 22nd in the state.
Serving 1,875 students from Bernards Township, Somerset County, Ridge had 73 percent of students score at least 1550 on the SAT. It was the highest-ranked all-purpose public high school in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report, rated seventh-best in the state and 177th in the nation. Its mean SAT score was 24th-highest overall in the state.
It seems apt that a school in the township that was home to one of Thomas Edison's laboratories makes this list. JP Stevens is one of two high schools in the fifth-most populous municipality in the state -- with more than 101,000 residents in 2013. It is the largest high school on the list, with 2,120 students. It is also the most diverse, with 80 percent of students identified as minorities and 12 percent economically disadvantaged. Almost 70 percent of those who took the SAT got at least 1550.