NJ For Change

Monday, March 06, 2006

Camden School Success or Scam?

The New Jersey Department of Education is investigating three Camden public schools where students showed a dramatic improvement in their standardized math test scores.

The investigation was triggered after an analysis of test scores by the Philadelphia Inquirer showed that fourth-grade students at Camden’s H.B. Wilson Elementary School had the highest average math score of more than 1,300 elementary schools in New Jersey. The fourth graders at Wilson had a 57.4 percentage point gain from their third-grade scores.

Almost as remarkable was the improvement at Catto School in Camden where fourth grade math scores jumped from 35 percent to 82.4 percent proficient in one year and at Washington Elementary School, where scores jumped 38 percentage points to 86 percent passing.

Camden district and school officials insist that the scores are legitimate and credit “targeted work with computerized math programs” for the unheard of progress. The state plans to conduct its own analysis, but New Jersey’s Department of Education officials call the improved test scores "a success story."

Philip E. Freeman, Camden school board president, said it was unfortunate that the district's gains were subjected to a "degree of skepticism." If the scores are legit, all schools better start using those computerized programs and fast. If they can find one for reading, better still. But before we all get carried away with the wonders of technology, consider this:
Joseph Carruth, principal of Charles Brimm Medical Arts High School, told state officials that a high-ranking district administrator pressured him to rig math scores. At Brimm, the 11th-grade passing rate for math jumped 21 percentage points from the previous year.
It does make you ask why it took the Philadelphia Inquirer to spot this trend and bring it to the attention of the New Jersey Department of Education. It should have been the other way around. If it’s a success story, the state should have been studying the program for use in every school district. And if it’s a scam, the state should have been all over the Camden district to end the dishonesty and to weed out the cheats harming Camden’s children.

As much as I hope Camden students are becoming whizzes in math, consider me skeptical.
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