By ERIN ROLL
Montclair High School backslid on some of its academic assessments over the past two school years, and on its absenteeism rate. But its high school graduation rate has improved slightly.
Those were some of the findings in the high school’s annual performance report, released by the state Department of Education on March 12.
Montclair High School is also assigned an accountability score, based on its performance on PARCC tests, graduation rate and chronic absenteeism rate. That score also declined somewhat over the past two school years.
However, state and local education officials have cautioned against placing too much weight on the school performance reports, saying that the data itself may not tell the entire story.
SCHOOL PERFORMANCE REPORT
The school performance report provides data on how a school performed on standardized testing, graduation rates and attendance. Each report also includes demographic information.
Montclair High School’s performances on English and math PARCC tests dipped somewhat between 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.
In 2016-2017, 43.5 percent of students received passing grades on the math PARCC tests, and 54.9 percent scored as passing on the English tests.
In 2017-2018, 53.2 percent of students passed English, below the standard of 56.7 percent. in math, only 36 percent received a passing grade, below the standard of 45 percent.
Montclair High School has a four-year-graduation rate of 93.6 percent, above the state average of 90.9 percent, and the five-year graduation rate is 96.2 percent, above the state average of 92.4 percent.
In 2016-2017, the high school’s four-year graduation rate was 93.5 percent, and the five-year graduation rate was 94.1 percent.
But the school’s rate of chronic absenteeism was just above the state average of 14 percent.
About 15 percent of Montclair High School’s students were chronically absent from school during the 2017-2018 school year. A student is chronically absent if they have missed 10 percent or more of regular school days: 18 days out of an 180-day school calendar.
In 2016-2017, about 14 percent of students were chronically absent.
Starting in 2016-2017, the school performance reports include accountability scores for schools, as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The scores are used to determine if a school is in need of comprehensive support from the state.
Schools are graded on a scale of 0 to 100 on English and math proficiency, graduation rates, and attendance. These scores are then averaged into cumulative scores.
From 2016-2017 to 2017-2018, Montclair High School’s cumulative score dropped from 43.26 percent to 41.93 percent. This puts Montclair High School in the 37th percentile of high schools, based on its accountability score, for 2017-2018.
DOE official Mike Yaple said the purpose of the scores is to identify the schools that are most in need of help, not to classify schools.
“The purpose of the summative scores and ratings is to identify the schools in the most need of support, not to classify schools into other categories such as “above-average” or “below-average,” he said.
The accountability summative scores factor in data for multiple indicators (academic achievement, academic growth, graduation rate, progress toward English Language proficiency, and chronic absenteeism) and take into account school and subgroup performance.
“We encourage communities to use the School Performance Reports to learn how schools and subgroups are performing across all indicators,” he said.
Schools that ends in the bottom fifth percentile are identified as being in need of “comprehensive support” from the state. Montclair High School was not identified as being in need of such.
For English language and math proficiencies, with 100 points being the highest, the high school dropped in English, but increased in math. Students scored 49 points for English and 53.58 points for math, compared to 2016-17 scores of 46.50 on English language arts and 54.40 on math.
Last year, the school scored 40.60 for the four-year graduation rate, and 40.70 on the five-year graduation rate.
In 2017-2018, MHS’s four-year graduation rate scored 36.68 out of 100, and the five-year graduation rate got a score of 41.95.
The school’s score for absenteeism also dropped between 2016-2017 and 2017-2018: the absenteeism rate earned a score of 36.40 in 2016-2017, but dropped to 29.02 in 2017-2018.
Districts themselves do not receive accountability scores. The NJDOE also has not compiled an average accountability score for high schools across the state.
OTHER OUTLET RANKINGS
NJ Advance Media compiled a ranking of all of New Jersey’s public schools based on their accountability scores.
In spite of having a lower accountability score, Montclair moved up five places on NJ Advance Media’s ranking, from 212th place out of 336 public high schools, to 207th for 2017-2018.
But the high school was still ranked much lower than many of its peers in Essex County. On the list, Verona High School was ranked 72nd, Cedar Grove High School was ranked 66th, Livingston High School was ranked 54th, Glen Ridge High School was ranked 59th, and Columbia High School in South Orange-Maplewood was ranked 208th.
New Jersey school districts are divided into District Factor Groups: groupings of districts with similar socio-economic backgrounds. Each group has a letter ranking from A to J, with A being for poorer districts and J being for wealthier districts. Montclair is classified in Group I. Neighboring high schools in the same factor group include Verona, Cedar Grove, Livingston, Glen Ridge and Columbia in South Orange-Maplewood.
However, the website Niche.com, which annually publishes rankings of schools and districts in New Jersey, gave the school district a rating of A+ for 2019. The website assigns grades to schools and districts based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as survey results sent to students and teachers. U.S. News ranked the high school 44th among New Jersey high schools, and 1,449th among high schools across the United States.
NOT A SCORE CARD
Peter Shulman is a former deputy education commissioner who worked with the NJDOE during the Christie administration. He is now the head of the Baltimore-based group Urban Teachers.
“The big benefit of school performance reports is transparency, not accountability,” Shulman said. “I believe data should lead first and foremost to inquiry and conversation.” A school performance report can help teachers and community members identify trends over time, and identify areas that can possibly be improved. And that gets easier the more data there is to analyze, he said.
But a school performance report is not meant to be a “score card,” he said. The report itself may not paint the entire picture of how a school is doing, he said.
“And sometimes, it gets lost in the belief that it’s all about test scores,” he said. “Nor is a school performance report meant to be judgemental.”
In a state like New Jersey, with many local school districts, community members have easy access to their board of education members, Shulman said, which makes it easier for people to ask questions of their BOEs and get answers.
BOE President Laura Hertzog said reports such as the school performance report don’t tell the whole story about Montclair’s schools.
“I don’t think that any single report can capture the totality, individuality and nuance of any school district. I’m always interested in seeing different kinds of feedback on the state’s school districts, because they provide a variety of perspectives, but no one report could possibly tell the whole story about any district,” Hertzog said.