Butler students are not the only ones looking to improve test scores. Their teachers and administrators are focusing on achievement as well, particularly in the area of language arts on the elementary school level.
Aaron Decker School Principal Virginia Scala presented the school's testing figures for the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) at the December Butler Board of Education meeting. While she said her students scored better than those at other schools in their District Factor Group (schools of similar socio-economic status) she said that in several cases, the students test scores need improvement, particularly in the area of language arts.
The entire school district is working to adapt to new state Common Core curriculum standards. New testing guidelines have schools not only examining how well students individually do on tests, but how far off they are from other, similar students in the state.
While explaining the Aaron Decker students' lower scores in the language arts category, Scala said, "it's not nice to say, but we're in good company," meaning other districts in the state are struggling in that area as well. This is because the state standards have been elevated, she said.
"With that target being raised, so many districts didn't make it," she said.
Superintendent Mario Cardinale acknowledged the difficulty in teaching language arts under the new state standards without much assistance.
"There hasn't been anything forthcoming from the state," he said.
Richard Butler School Principal Andrea Vladichak said fewer test graders for the NJASK have also created a challenge for students on writing portions of the test. Vladichak said the district only has one person reading the essay portion of the test, while there used to be several readers, and if that one person did not care for a student's writing style, their grades could be impacted.
Scala said the Aaron Decker School administration has already begun developing an action plan for the 2012-13 school year to work on improving the scores. Included in the plan are five days of reading every month, additional professional development and a closer look at instruction.
Scala said she would like every grade level to have 90 minutes of language arts instruction and 90 minutes of math instruction in a block. Support staff would also be available to provide additional assistance to students during the block.
Although she acknowledged that there is work ahead of the school, Scala told board members she was encouraged by the teachers' enthusiasm toward improving students' scores.