At Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, a report of Bloomfield’s failing New Jersey state assessment scores was followed by the unveiling of an ambitious multi-step plan to raise test scores by the end of the year.
The plan, outlined in a series of presentations by Superintendent Jason Bing and district educators, included the increased use of technology-based learning tools and the district-wide adoption of the Star Enterprise system from Renaissance Learning Inc. According to Bing, these tools would not only provide educators with a checks and balance system to assess children’s academic progress, but was a necessary component in keeping up with twenty-first century education.
“This state is moving to a completely electronic system called NJ Smart. All state assessments, starting in about 2013, will be given online, not in pencil. We’re trying to get our kids ready for that,” Bing concluded after his presentation. "No one should have to walk into a classroom and see a blackboard still being used, with chalk and erasers."
The district-wide goals outlined during the presentation included raising standardized test scores based on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) guidelines set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which would require each school to complete a needs assessment report on each student.
Bing said the benchmark for student achievement would be set according to the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum Results (NJ QSAC) just as they were last year. The QSAC results from the 2010-11 schoolyear were not positive, however.
The Bloomfield school district did not score well on any of the five different areas of concentration graded by the state: Instruction and Programs; fiscal management; operations; personnel and governance. In fact, it failed in the area of Instruction and Programs, scoring 51%. A score of 80% or above is needed to pass.
In addition, virtually all schools in the district, with the exception of Brookdale, Oakview and Watsessing, failed to meet federal standards set for AYP (though Watsessing passed this year, it is considered “on hold” for failing to make AYP in the past.)
Moving forward, Bing resolved to do better next year by implementing a multi-step strategy for the 2011 school year that includes the following key points:
- Increased use of technology and communication tools at all schools
- The addition of NEO computer technology in grades 2-6
- Star Reading and Star Math Enterprise System
- Accelerated Reader
- Incorporating the Lighthouse program for underperforming schools (Berkeley and Watsessing)
- Introducing approximately 20 new curricula throughout the district
- Redesigning the gifted and talented program in middle school and high school
- Increased rigor in courses district-wide
The presentors noted that a critical factor in educational achievement is assessing students’ academic progress throughout the school year and making adjustments accordingly. To this end, programs like the computerized Accelerated Reader allow teachers to track their students’ progress much more effectively than they could in the past.
“If a student hasn’t read a book, Accelerated Reader will know,” Bing said. “It will stop the quiz and tell the student to go back and read the book. Same with math. It gages the level of math mastery and won’t let the student go any farther [until mastery is achieved.]”
The program also informs instructors of students’ progress.
“It will tell the teacher specifically what the student needs,” he explained. “It will say, ‘this student is struggling with context clues,’ for example.”
Bing’s presentation was preceded by a demonstration of NEO computers by Berkeley School Media Specialist, Tabitha Rice, an address by Principal Heather Carr and a lengthy powerpoint presentation by the Director of Instruction and Testing of Bloomfield Public Schools, Katherine Martinez.
“Nowhere does this [new educational plan] say, ‘NJ Ask” but if students are able to [succeed at] this they will be ready for the NJ Ask,” Martinez noted.
“These district-wide goals submitted to the county, accompanied by action plans, will be posted on the district website by Nov. 1st," promised Bing.