BOE reports quarterly goal update

District making improvements on curriculum

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By Jennifer Jean Miller
— As part of a continuing effort to make improvements in the Sparta Township Schools' curriculum, student attendance and professional development for the school system’s professional staff, curriculum developers within the district are honing in on areas looking to be strengthened, placing the schools on par and beyond in some cases with peer schools within the state.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Melissa Varley presented the district’s quarterly goal update for the school board and members of the public in attendance at the Board of Education May 27 meeting.

Varley highlighted analytics for the English Language Arts and Math proficiency rates per marking period for the Mohawk Avenue, Alpine Elementary, Helen Morgan and Sparta Middle Schools.

For Sparta High School students, Varley also showed the analyses for Social Studies and Science, in addition to Math and ELA performances. A High School Proficiency Assessment was another component she addressed for the Sparta High students. Student attendance to date versus 2013 figures was also included.

Among the goals, Varley said, was to improve student achievement through a challenging and comprehensive academic program and curriculum utilizing implementation of the AchieveNJ principles. Additionally, the district strives to improve special education services to those enrolled in the program, as well as communicating information about the program to the parents of special education students.

How have the students performed in the areas analyzed versus past marking periods?

“We’re slightly below and slightly above some of our peers,” said Varley, of how Sparta ranked with other schools in the state.

The Alpine School’s third grade was compared to Lincoln Elementary in Edison and Center Grove in Randolph. In ELA, Alpine was sandwiched between the two, demonstrating a 77 percent proficiency versus Lincoln’s 82 percent and Center Grove’s 74 percent. In Math, Alpine scored higher than both schools, at 89.8 percent, with Lincoln coming in at 88.9 and Center Grove at 88.8.

The Helen Morgan School’s fifth graders were matched with Vorhees in Camden County and Lafayette Mills in Manalapan. Helen Morgan tied with Vorhees by showing a 77 percent proficiency in ELA and Lafayette Mills outranked both by a point at 78 percent. In Math, Helen Morgan outranked both, with 93 percent proficiency. Lafayette Mills followed behind with 89 percent and Vorhees 82.

The Sparta Middle School was the only school to rank third in both categories. Eighth graders overall in the middle school ranked 91.1 percent in ELA while Demarest outranked them with a 98 percent and Thomas Edison in Westfield with a 96. In Math, the Middle School ranked 81 percent overall, while Demarest reflected a 95 percent and Thomas Edison an 89.

New Providence High School, typically known as the top school in the state, fell short to Sparta in ELA, and Chatham also slightly trailed behind.

“The high school outperformed both of those districts,” Varley said.

In ELA, the Sparta High School students garnered a 99.1 percent, with Chatham at 99 and New Providence 97 percent. In Math, on the other hand, Chatham took the lead in the 97 percentile for math proficiency, with New Providence at 96 percent and Sparta at 92.

Varley presented individual rankings for each of the grade levels for the third marking period, which reflected mostly an upward trend in terms of proficiency, for both Math and ELA, for general education, special education and combined groups of students.

High School Proficiency Assessment)scores also remained fairly constant for 2013, versus 2014, with Varley reporting in Math that students experienced a slight drop at Sparta High School from 91.8 percent overall to 91 percent, and in ELA an increase of 99.1 percent to 99.7.

The district has “stiffened up the attendance requirements,” said Superintendent Dennis Tobin, with an increase in all the schools in attendance for 2014 versus 2013, except for a slight drop at the middle school.

The attendance figures for the district, however, reflected within the 90th percentile for all of the schools for both years. Tobin said at the high school level, students could lose credits now for excessive unexcused absences.

“High school administration has emphasized the importance of being in the classroom,” Tobin said.

The district is rounding out their goals with student achievement in other ways. Reader and writing workshops for kindergarten through fifth grades are another way the Sparta School District is upping student accomplishments.

One offering was a before and after school program for students requiring extra help, something that remained in effect until the NJASK testing began.

“Brain Camp” will begin on June 7 for at-risk kindergarten and first grade students.

Teachers will also continue to be scholastically challenged with more professional development workshops.

Meetings have been taking place with parents of special education students, with minutes from each meeting posted on the district website. Superintendent forums have also been held on a regular basis throughout the school year, as part of the goal of communicating with stakeholders within the district.

“We’ve done a good job of maximizing our electronic communication system,” Tobin said, which includes the Genesis, instant alert and district website and Facebook pages for events, emergencies and other announcements.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Tobin of the electronic communication systems. “Some have said we communicate too much.”

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