After a summer of fervent refurbishment, the newly repainted halls of North Warren Regional High School once again teem with staff and students.
Getting there was no easy task. In their meeting on August 28th, the NWS Board of Education heard several tales of teachers and staff going beyond the call of duty to get the school ready for the new year.
“The way that this leadership team is working together and people are coming together to make this happen for all our kids when they come back has been nothing short of miraculous,” said Superintendent Dr. Jeanene Dutt. “I wanted to publicly thank the custodial team, the maintenance team, our administrative assistants, Mrs. Norcross-Murphy and all the people who are coming here when no one sees them to get this done.”
There were too many names to mention, and undoubtedly more who weren’t named. Mr. Decker, Director of Buildings and Grounds, came in on weekends to continue facility upgrades. North Warren’s nurse spent a day scraping the gum off the cafeteria tables. Mr. Arbolino, Director of School Security, actually built the new security desk. Principal Carie Norcross-Murphy put down the mulch outside.
“One of the things that I’m feeling most proud of is that we are making improvements for the benefit of our students and our community,” Norcross-Murphy said. “And it is my fervent hope that when they come back into the building on Wednesday… they will recognize some of these things and take some pride in being here.”
And so, the clamor and bustle of another school year has begun.
The board wasted no time in examining a crucial new piece of data: the Spring 2023 results for the NJ Graduation Proficiency Assessment. Juniors take the test as part of their graduation requirement, aiming to meet or exceed the cutoff score of 725 in both Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA). The new score of 725 was established in May 2023, after the State’s Board of Education determined that the original cutoff score of 750 was an “overreach.”
North Warren students performed better than the state average in both subjects. In the spring 2023 results, 93% of NWS students passed ELA vs. 81% of NJ students overall. In math, 69% of NWS students met the cutoff compared to 55% statewide.
Juniors who don’t pass the NJGPA have three options to successfully prove their graduation readiness. First, they can re-take the necessary portion(s) of the test in October of their senior year. Second, they can take an equivalent competency test, such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, or Accuplacer.
The third option is to work with a teacher in order to produce a portfolio of academic artifacts, the most time-intensive (and least popular) option.
Many juniors who did not meet the score cutoffs in their spring NJGPA results were able to take the second option, using their PSAT, SAT, ACT, or Accuplacer scores to provide their graduation readiness. That has reduced the total number of students at North Warren that, at this time, have yet to meet the requirement.
New Jersey requires a breakdown of NJGPA data by certain demographics: gender, race, socioeconomic disadvantage, and IEP / 504 status. Some of these analyses revealed very little, such as the negligible gender difference in the math section (70% of females met the cutoff score vs. 68% of males).
Other analyses revealed red flags that Dr. Dutt noted in her presentation. One particular red flag stood out in the analysis of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans, which are meant to accommodate disabilities and diagnosed learning differences.
What did the data reveal about how students with IEPs did in math? “100% not yet ready,” Dr. Dutt, pointing to a skyscraper on the bar graph. “That is a problem. That data doesn’t lie. That data basically said– students with an individualized education plan… 100% of them were not ready in math for graduation, according to this test, not according to other assessments that they may have taken.”
Dr. Dutt emphasized that the nature of the test did not allow for a spectrum of student assessment. Principal Norcross-Murphy noted that some students had failed to meet the cutoff score by only one or two points. Unfortunately, due to the binary nature of the test, a score of 724 still counts as not graduation ready.
The breakdown by race/ ethnicity was harder to parse. On the one hand, the bar graphs seemed to depict some large differences– for instance, 80% of Hispanic / Latino students met the score cutoff in ELA vs. 96% of White students and 100% of Asian and Black students.
Yet, in a school where only about 13% of students are ethnic minorities, according to U.S. News & World Report, it’s possible that small population sizes lead to the appearance of drastic percentage differences on the bar chart.
Dr. Dutt concluded her presentation on North Warren’s recent NJGPA data with a summary of the interventions that the school plans to implement. Some of them are schoolwide, including a differentiated foundational skills enrichment class that will be given to all 7th and 8th graders.
Other interventions are more targeted, including expanded tutoring, push-in and pull-out interventions with reading specialists as well as general education staff, and increased emphasis on math support in the resource room.
These are all interventions that, staff hope, will benefit new seniors before they get the chance to re-take the NJGPA in October.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.