New reports detail N.J. school performance
Cherry Hill and Moorestown's public high schools all exceeded the state average for the percentage of students who take performance arts classes, and the Gloucester County Institute of Technology, despite some challenges, posted a 100 percent graduation rate.
Those are among many nuggets to be mined in the state's latest School Performance Reports - more than 2,500 of them for the 2012-13 school year - which were made public Tuesday.
The performances reports debuted last year, replacing the old school report cards with the intention of providing more varied information.
While performance on standardized tests remains a prominent element, the reports contain a lot of other data as well. They compare schools to state averages and to so-called peer schools - those similar in demographics - on factors such as academic achievement, college and career readiness, and student growth and graduation.
The reports also look at variables such as SAT performance, Advanced Placement classes, and, with elementary schools, rates of chronic absenteeism.
This year's reports for the first time give rates of high school student participation in performing arts classes. They also include students taking the ACT exam and International Baccalaureate classes and what percentage of students go to two-year college versus four-year institutions.
"These are extraordinarily powerful tools," state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said of the reports.
They are meant to give educators and members of the public a wide array of information to improve education in their own communities.
Last year, the reports got off to a bit of a bumpy start.
"There was a sense there was a lot of inaccurate data," said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
Since then, state Department of Education staff has taken input from hundreds of educators on how to improve the reports, according to state education spokesmen. Bozza said that so far, he had not heard complaints about the latest reports.
He said the reports have generated conversations between superintendents and principals and community members.
"Superintendents and principals still need to be the interpreters of the data for their communities," he said.
Collingswood and Oaklyn Superintendent Scott Oswald said that last year with the first release, the reports named some performance targets districts had not been privy to.
"The overall feeling was it was tough to meet a target when you are not aware of where that lies," he said.
Even so, Oswald said, "the reports provide us with valuable data to help us improve programs for kids."
Pemberton Superintendent Michael Gorman agreed that the information could be helpful but said most of it was not news to him or his staff.
"I don't see anything her that we didn't have access to prior," Gorman said.
Mount Laurel Superintendent Antoinette Rath called the reports "a great service" for parents.
"The performance report is a collection of all of the data the district has used over the previous year to set goals, provide direction, and validate curriculum," Rath said. "While we are familiar with this information, it is helpful to have it all presented in this format for parents - a one-stop shop, if you will."
Cherry Hill Superintendent Maureen Reusche, like others, questioned the state's peer groupings.
"I am wondering about the relevance of the peer groupings," she said. "The intended use of the peer groupings is not clear. It's challenging to find a group in our listing that truly relates to us."
To view a report for an individual school, go to http://education.state.nj.us/pr/