For Kearny public school students who took the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) exam this past spring, the results are — while not overwhelming impressive — somewhat heartening for local educators.
Flora Encarnacao, district director of curriculum & instruction for the Kearny Board of Education, said, “the trends are upward” in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.
This is also true, she said, in the area of biology competency.
Encarnacao said the district has seen increases in the number of students “meeting or exceeding expectations” in the subject areas tested.
The PARCC is used as an assessment tool by New Jersey and seven other states — Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Rhode Island — and the District of Columbia to determine if students are meeting so-called “Common Core State Standards.”
Local school administrators use 2014-2015 as the “base year” from which to begin measuring students’ level of achieving. Many states and/or parents have “opted out” of participating, claiming the PARCC is an unfair and/or arbitrary articulation of academic rigors and ignores state standards.
Despite the largely consistent upward movement among all grade levels, the thresholds being met or achieved by Kearny students are not all that impressive judging from a look at the data presented at the most recent KBOE meeting.
Overall, just 40% of the Kearny students district-wide who took the PARCC in the spring met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts (ELA) while only 26% met or exceeded expectations in Math.
Fifty percent of fifth-graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA; in all other grades tested, the range was 22% (grade 11) to 49% (grade 3).
In Math, the results were much worse: Except for Lincoln Middle Schoolers, of whom 79% met or exceeded expectations in algebra, the best record was logged by third-graders, of whom 49% met or exceeded expectations, with the higher grades logging between 33% (grade 6) and as low as 8% (high school geometry).
Nonetheless, Encarnacao remains optimistic.
“I do believe we will continue to see an upward trend in our PARCC scores and that the increase will occur in all areas. Albeit it may happen a little slower, I believe we will see growth, nonetheless. This will be a result of our continued commitment to developing teacher practice and expertise through intensive professional development and the implementation of high-quality research-based programs,” she said.
To address math issues, Encarnacao said this year the district implemented a new K-12 warehousing and benchmark platform called “LinkIt!”
Through its benchmarks — which are based on PARCC blueprints — students in grades 3-11 will be assessed three times during the school year to “provide us with immediate feedback on areas of strength and need by standard for each individual student,” she said.
While the district’s philosophy “is not to ‘teach to the test,’” Encarnacao said, “these benchmarks … are based on standards and skills that students must master for each grade level which happen to be the standards most tested on in PARCC.
“Therefore, we will be utilizing the data to inform our instructional practices and pacing during the year and we hope to see additional gains as a result. We are also organizing content-based professional development for staff based on areas we would like to improve. The addition of district curriculum coaches is also providing increased support and modeling of best practices for staff in Math as in other subject areas.”
As examples of new instructional approaches to content areas now being introduced to district teachers, Encarnacao mentioned these:
- Children’s Literacy Initiative for grades 1 and 2. Teachers in Washington, Garfield and Roosevelt elementary schools are undergoing 26 hours of coaching through an educational nonprofit based in Philadelphia. It’s being funded by the federal Title 2 program and a $15,000 grant from Provident Bank, she said.
- Knowing Science, a new K-grade 5 “hands-on, learning-by-doing” through experiments program founded by William Banko. “We’re currently piloting the program in grade 6 with two teachers,” Encarnacao said. “We’re the first district in Hudson County to be doing this. Many schools in Bergen County have already introduced it and we’re excited about where we’re taking instruction.”
- Curriculum Coaches. Encarnacao said the district expanded the program this year, both by increasing from two to six coaches and from coverage in pre-K to grade 8 to include the high school. The coaches, former classroom teachers, are assigned to specific schools and subject areas. Currently, she said, two are working with pre-K staff, two are with grades 3-5 staff and two are with grades 6-8 as well as grades 9-12 English and Math.
Parents interested in learning more about PARCC results in individual Kearny schools and grades and in schools around the state are invited to visit www.state.nj.us/education/data and click on NJ Statewide Assessment Reports.