Students at the Paterson school district registered a “dismal” performance in the state’s science exams last spring.
Test scores presented to the school board on Wednesday evening showed 90 percent of students in grades 5, 8, and 11 flunked the spring 2019 administration of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment – Science.
5,286 students took the exams. 1,929 in grade 5; 1,928 in grade 8; and 1,429 in grade 11, according to the data.
9.1 percent of fifth graders were proficient. State average is 29.3 percent.
3.3 percent of eight grade students were proficient. State average is 19.8 percent.
4.9 percent of 11th grade students were proficient. State average is 27.3 percent.
“These scores are dismal,” said assistant superintendent Joanna Tsimpedes.
Tsimpedes said the new exams are far more rigorous with their focus on science knowledge and skills rather than content memorization. Previously, students were given the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK). The state conducted a field test of the new exams in 2017-18 school year. No results were received by the district from those exams. The next year, 2018-19, was the first true administration of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) – Science.
“I’m extremely troubled by this,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges. He said it was evident district students were not doing well in science from past poor performance on a biology exam. “This to me suggests a major overhaul is needed not just in science but our approach to teaching.”
Hodges said he has yet to see the district make “significant” strides in improving science education.
Tsimpedes said teachers were provided professional development in “sense making” and “project-based learning.” Resource guides were produced for teachers and students. Two science coordinators were working with teachers to boost instruction in science. She said revision of science curricula in the district is planned.
“We have done a great deal of work within the last year to ensure our teachers and students have the right tools in order to be proficient,” said Tsimpedes. There’s no way to measure whether those efforts were successful because there is no New Jersey Student Learning Assessment – Science administration this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last few years most of the attention was given to math and English in classrooms at the expense of science and social studies, school officials said. Science is now taking a “front seat” in the classrooms, said Tsimpedes.
“Do we have a lot of work to do? Yes, we do,” Tsimpedes told the school board.
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