Standardized test scores are on the rise in Collingswood public schools, according to the 2012 district test report delivered at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.
Chief Performance Officer Matt Genna said that district scores are improving on a three-year average in both math and language arts. As it stands now, 72 percent of Collingswood students tested proficient in language arts and 79 percent tested proficient in math in 2012.
The increases from 2009-12 are most noteworthy in math, in which timeframe scores rose 9 percent. That figure exceeds the state average, but remains just below the proficiency level for the Collingswood district factor group (DFG), Genna said.
In the same period, Collingswood students’ language arts scores climbed far less, exceeding the state average proficiency rate, but again remaining just short of the DFG proficiency rate. Genna observed that the subject areas in which students struggle shifts from language arts in grades 3 through 6 to math in grades 7 through 11.
Other progress since 2009 was observed along statistical outliers in the district, with the percentage of students demonstrating advanced proficiency in language arts up from 9 to 22 percent and from 18 to 22 percent in math.
At the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of students who are only partially proficient in math fell 9 percent over 3 years, and average total proficiency in the district exceeds 90 percent, Genna said.
Along demographic lines, the achievement gap between white and black students in math testing fell from 36 percentage points in 2011 to 28 in 2012. Black and Hispanic students in Collingswood tested better in both categories, on average, than did their counterparts throughout the state; yet they lagged behind other minorities within the Collingswood DFG.
Likewise, female students outperform male students in the district, with 81 percent testing at proficient levels in language arts in 2012 versus 64 percent of males, and 80 percent of females testing at proficient levels in math versus 77 percent of males.
When asked to account for the differences in student achievement as measured along ethnic lines, Genna said that far from being unique to Collingswood, it’s a question that continues to plague educators statewide.
“The achievement gap did not move much [in 2012],” he said. “It’s something that has been an issue for years, and it continues to be. You can look at those kind of gaps, really depending upon the district, it depends on the number of students in subgroups.”
Genna was steadfast, however, in his assertion that “all students can absolutely achieve proficiency and advanced proficiency.
"It’s about the quality of instruction they receive,” he said.
At the fringes
The programs of which the district is proudest, Genna said, are its literacy initiatives. Through the “Leveled Literacy” program, which targeted a subsection of underperforming eleventh graders last year, 23 of 25 tested as proficient in language arts.
Genna said the accomplishment was particularly noteworthy, as 20 of them had tested as “not proficient” in the seventh grade, and 18 achieved double-digit increases from their ASK scores.
“Anybody who wants to take shots at the high school only needs to look at the [rest of the] state,” Oswald said. “These are our most struggling learners in the school. That says something about the hard work of our teachers, and that says something about the programs we offer. In every subject area they’re annotating, they’re working; it all adds up across the board.
“We have this intervention for the kids which is really not fancy,” he said. “Put a book in their hands and if they love it they’ll read.”
Despite the positive takeaways from the report, Genna was quick to point out that standardized test results only demonstrate student aptitude in a very specific set of skills on one testing day. He is far prouder of the classroom experience within the district and its emphasis on collaborative learning and persuasive composition.
“You as an educator want them to do well on the standardized tests, no question, but you also want them to do well in other areas,” Genna told Patch.
“To be successful beyond your schooling, you need a wider set of skills than what’s tested on the standardized tests. Our focus is to prep them for the skills that they’re going to need in life.”
In 2015, the district will move to the PARCC assessments, which measure student readiness for college in a series of tests throughout the school year instead of one test in the spring.
Genna hopes that under those metrics, which will test the same groups of students against their own performances throughout the year, Collingswood students will demonstrate consistent growth.
As compared with the education offered at other public schools in the area, Genna said, “The day-to-day instruction that we provide our students is outstanding, and I think it will continue to get stronger.
“I’m biased, but I think it’s the best,” he said.