BEHIND THE NUMBERS / STATE TESTING OF GRADES 5, 6, 7 HELPS TEACHERS LEARN ABOUT TRENDS

Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ) - February 10, 2007

Author: DIANE D'AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241

More than two-thirds of the special-education students who took the eighth-grade math test at Buena Regional High School were male.

"What does this tell you?" Harvey Kesselman asked teachers sitting in the high school library. "What are the future implications for graduation?"

Teachers discussed why so many special-education students are boys, but Kesselman then used the data to make another point.

"If we didn't know this was happening," he said, "how would we even know to address it? We wouldn't even know to ask these questions."

The 2006 state school report cards were released this week on the state Department of Education Web site. While much of the focus is on test scores, the database offers a wealth of information about trends in schools. For the first time, in 2006 the state tested fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, giving schools a new batch of data on how their students perform starting in grade three.

But having a lot of information is just the beginning. Teachers also today have to know how to use the data to improve and not just get bogged down in numbers.

"Five years ago we would not be doing this, " said Kesselman, CEO of the the Southern Regional Institute at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, which offers training to school districts throughout southern New Jersey. "We didn't have the data, or the interest. Teachers would know their school was not doing as well as others, but they really did not know why, or how to fix it. Now they can analyze the data and use it to improve."

For Buena Regional's teachers, Kesselman compared different parts of the state tests with the state average, and with the average of similar districts. Buena is classified by the state as an "A" district - a socioeconomic category they share with neighboring Vineland, Hammonton and Millville, and also Camden and Newark. The district is more rural, but it has a high level of poverty and unemployment, all of which play a role in student performance.

Harvey's data on the eighth-grade and high school tests shows Buena doesn't always make the state averages, but usually scores far above the other "A" districts. Teachers wondered how to get that information to the public.

Kesselman reviewed the overall test results, then got down to the details. Eighth-graders are about even with the state model in reading, but drop a bit below in writing. Students are doing fine on geometry and measurement and problem solving, but dropped off on data analysis.

Kesselman also used the data to challenge some assumptions, and said he loves when he can surprise a group of teachers. In Buena, he showed that while minority student scores still lag behind white students, Buena's minority students often far outperform those in other poor districts and sometimes even exceed the state average.

"You need to promote your successes, too," Kesselman said. "You have to look at the entire picture."

It's not always easy. Ted Peters, one of the younger teachers, said he was taught to use the state report card data in college. But older teachers have not had that experience.

Assistant Superintendent Carmella Vasta said they held the workshop to make all teachers more aware of what information is available and how Buena stacks up against the rest of the state. She said in particular teachers who teach subjects not tested, such as social studies, should still be more involved in the process.

Teacher Greg Smith, president of the teacher's association, said the data can help them target the areas where students are weak.

"There is so much information it can be overkill," he said. "But it can help direct us."

Kesselman warned not to let the test data alone control education.

"You can use the data to look at trends," he said. "But ultimately this is about learning and helping individual students succeed."

PERFECT SCORES
The goal of the No Child Left Behind law is to have 100 percent of students pass state tests by 2014. Five area schools achieved that goal on at least one section of the state tests given to fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders in 2006. In alphabetical order, they are:

- Cape May City Elementary School: Fifth-grade math.

- Crest Memorial School in Wildwood Crest: Fifth-grade language arts.

- Green Bank School in Washington Township: Fifth-grade language arts and math.

- Stone Harbor Elementary School: Sixth-grade language arts.

- West Avenue School in Bridgeton: Fifth-grade math.

COMING UP

SUNDAY: High school test scores and the new pressure to make sure all students pass.

MONDAY: Grade-eight test scores and how Saturday school is helping students in one district prepare for the test.

ON THE WEB

Charts showing results for schools in your county can be found at PressofAtlanticCity.com

The statewide report cards will be online at www.state.nj.us/education

To e-mail Diane D'Amico at The Press: DDamico@pressofac.com

Caption: 1. Teachers study significance of test scores Harvey Kesselman, of the Southern Regional Institute at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, explains test-score analysis to teachers Friday at Buena Regional High School. Today's look at the state's education report card examines scores for grades five, six and seven, and how teachers are using the data to improve education. Color photo from page A1 2. Harvey Kesselman, CEO of the Southern Regional Institute at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, talks to teachers during a workshop at Buena Regional High School about how to analyze students' scores on state tests. Staff color photo by Michael Ein 3. Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tests: Atlantic County. Press graphic 4. Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tests: Cape May County. Press graphic 5. Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tests: Cumberland County. Press graphic 6. Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tests: Ocean County. Press graphic 7. Teachers listen Friday at Buena Regional High School as Harvey Kesselman, of the Southern Regional Institute at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, tells them that the state's test scores can serve as signposts for teachers if the figures are properly analyzed and understood. Staff photo by Michael Ein photo ran in Cape, Cumberland, and Ocean County editions.