The city’s public schools had more high school students taking the pre-SATs and the SATs in the 2016-17 school year than the state average, according to data released by the New Jersey Department of Education.
State report shows 97.5-percent of students in grades 10 and 11 took the PSATs and 73.9-percent took the SATs. New Jersey average PSAT participation stands at 89.4 and SAT at 70-percent.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer said the district made PSAT exams more accessible to high school students a few years ago.
“We decided to give it to all of our students at a certain date in October,” said Shafer.
“We really encouraged and made it easy for them to take it,” said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools.
The higher PSAT participation led to more students taking the SAT, an important college entrance exam.
Some schools — Rosa Parks High School, Panther Academy, Harp Academy, and the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) at John F. Kennedy High School — had 100-percent of their students taking both PSAT and SAT in the 2016-17 school year, according to state data.
None of the city’s high schools had 100-percent participation rate in the two tests in 2015-16 school year.
“More students taking the test is good. More students doing well is the ultimate goal,” said Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for the city’s school children.
“I’m glad we improved. I want to see the scores going in the same direction then I’ll start getting ready to celebrate,” said school board member Emanuel Capers. “I’ll take one victory at a time.”
Capers expressed confidence in the current administration to boost the scores.
“How are they performing though? That’s the question,” said school board member Flavio Rivera.
The SAT scores are low. 32-percent of district students scored at or above the college-ready benchmark in reading and writing and 16-percent in mathematics.
The state average: 77-percent in reading and writing and 58-percent in math.
Other big cities
Jersey City has 100-percent of its students taking both the PSAT and the SAT, according to state data. 50-percent of their students met benchmark in reading and writing and 39-percent in math.
In Newark, 83-percent of their students took PSAT and 78-percent took the SAT. 49-percent met benchmark in reading and writing and 29-percent in math.
Shafer is working on a plan to improve the SAT scores. She is looking to give her students a leg up by offering SAT prep and SAT courses.
“We’re working on all of that now as we speak,” said Shafer last week. She wants SAT prep offered at all high schools starting the 2018-19 school year. Simply getting students to take the SAT exams is no small accomplishment.
In Paterson, 90-percent of adults lack a four-year degree. The college conversation, which often includes a piece on prerequisites like earning high marks on the SATs to get into a college, taken for granted elsewhere, often does not happen at home.
Rivera agreed the district has to offer students SAT prep. “Everyone that has resources do,” said Rivera speaking of the well-off who can pay to send their children to take SAT classes or receive tutoring.
With a family income of $34,000, parents in Paterson do not have the means to send their children to receive SAT prep courses or private tutoring.
Rivera said the district also has to offer more guidance to students.
“A lot of those kids are first in their family to go to college,” said Rivera. “That was my case. I didn’t have guidance from anyone. If it wasn’t for my baseball coach, who said, ‘Listen, you have to fill out your financial aid and application to college.’ I probably would have gone to college but would have defaulted to PCCC.”
Rivera attended Eastside High School. His mother did not speak much English to provide him college advice. He submitted just a single college application. A bad strategy, he noted. He was lucky accepted. He earned a four-year degree.
“You need guidance because they don’t have it at home,” said Rivera. Guidance should start in elementary school, he said. Students ought to know that high school grades play a key role in getting into a decent college.
60.5-percent of Paterson high school graduates were enrolled in college, according to state data. 34.3 in two-year schools and 26.2 in four-year colleges.
Newark: 53.5-percent of students were enrolled in college. 18.5 in two-year colleges and 34.9-percent in four-year colleges.
Jersey City: 69.9-percent enrolled in college. 27.4 in two-year colleges and 42.1-percent in four-year schools.
The state report looks at graduates enrolled in college 16 months after graduation. New Jersey college enrollment average: 76.1-percent. 25.5 in two-year schools and 50.6-percent in four-year colleges.
“Keep in mind that PPS has been under-resourced for 10 years,” said Grant pointing to an almost decade of flat funding from the state government. “Still, we have to find creative ways to place student at the center of everything we do and put better outcomes at the top of the district priority list.”