20 Newark schools improve to exit state comprehensive and targeted status this year

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More than half of Newark’s public schools no longer carry the designation of being underperforming or in need of support following a state evaluation of high-poverty schools.

This year, 20 schools in Newark have transitioned out of state designations that label them as requiring support due to low student performance and other criteria. Weequahic High School and Rafael Hernandez Elementary School are among those that have moved out of one of the lowest designations assigned to schools in need of ongoing assistance. Superintendent Roger León disclosed the school designations at a recent board meeting.

These schools are part of a group exceeding 30 institutions that did not receive a designation this year.

Despite improvements compared to previous years, the district’s graduation rate and standardized test proficiency scores are still below the state average. Seven Newark schools will require state support to promote student achievement in the upcoming academic year.

León stated during the meeting that the district aims to minimize the number of state-supported schools to zero or a negligible number.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, New Jersey is mandated to provide all students with equal access to a top-notch education. The federal guidelines establish minimum standards for assessing and reporting school performance and mandate states to identify the lowest-performing schools.

Schools needing assistance receive federal funds to enhance the performance of the least achieving students. High-poverty schools may also be identified for further support through the Title I program. All Newark schools are eligible for Title I.

When determining schools in need of support, New Jersey evaluates a range of factors such as academic achievements, academic growth in elementary and middle schools, high school graduation rates, English language proficiency, and chronic absenteeism. Subsequently, the state assigns a score.

Last year’s analysis of data from the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years identified 25 public schools in Newark needing support. The district was required to create an action plan and involve the community in identifying and addressing school challenges.

This year, seven schools have either changed their state status or maintained their previous designation, marking a significant departure from last year’s review. The review this year scrutinized data from the 2022-23 school year, showing a 2 percentage point increase in math and English language arts state test scores in Newark Public Schools, indicating a slow academic recovery among students post-pandemic.

The pandemic significantly impacted student performance and mental well-being, particularly among Newark’s most vulnerable students like English language learners and those with disabilities. Notably, third-grade English language arts scores stayed at 19% last spring, raising concerns among advocates who consider this grade pivotal for long-term success.

Grover Cleveland and Thirteenth Avenue elementary schools performed at or below the bottom 5% of Title I schools and will enter “comprehensive status” in the forthcoming year. Thirteenth Avenue had exited this status in the prior year. High schools reach comprehensive status if their graduation rate falls below 67%.

Next year, Barringer High School will transition out of “comprehensive II status,” denoting schools needing intense support that failed to meet the state’s criteria for exiting this category. Instead, the school will move into “additional targeted status,” indicating that a specific student group is consistently underperforming.

Barringer provides a program for special education with a focus on behavior disabilities, with approximately 48% of its students being English learners according to fall enrollment data from 2022-23. Natasha Pared, Barringer’s principal, previously oversaw Rafael Hernandez Elementary school, which shed its state designation this year.

“We are confident that she can replicate this success at Barringer,” León stated during a school board meeting in February.

Chancellor Avenue and Sussex Avenue elementary schools will retain their “additional targeted status,” while Quitman Street Elementary School and Malcolm X Shabazz High School will maintain “comprehensive II” status.

Quitman offers a program catering to bilingual and special education for students with autism from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Shabazz also provides a program for special education students with behavior disabilities. In recent years, the school faced declining enrollment, academic performance challenges, and safety issues. In 2022, Shabazz reported a graduation rate of 64.2%, contrasting the statewide rate of 90%, as per school performance report data. It will introduce a new bilingual program for ninth and 10th grade students this fall.

In total, 36 schools did not receive any status designation, and 20 schools transitioned out of comprehensive status after the state’s review this year. The schools that moved out of a state designation are required to devise a plan for sustainability detailing how they will uphold student academic achievements.

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