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Report: Nearly all of Newark’s most disadvantaged students attend failing schools

NEWARK — Nearly all of Newark’s most disadvantaged elementary and middle school students attend failing district and charter schools, a report released today has found.

The report, commissioned by the district and prepared by the Boston-based consulting company Parthenon, analyzed student proficiency in math and reading, college readiness and test score growth in 85 charter and district schools across the state’s largest city.

It classified about 14,000 K-8 students as being “highest need,” based on factors such as backgrounds, home lives, English language proficiency and special education classification.

Students were ranked in three groups. Within the neediest group, fewer than 5 percent attend top schools, the report found.

Superintendent Cami Anderson said the report’s findings will help with decisions she expects to make next year about whether to close or consolidate schools. Her decision to overhaul a dozen schools last year drew criticism from some teachers and parents.

“This data will force us to think about taking aggressive measures to improve student outcomes,” Anderson said. “We have to lay out the facts so we know how to change.”

The district funded Parthenon’s work with help from the Newark Charter School Fund and the Foundation for Newark’s Future.

Officials from the three groups said they plan to use the report’s findings as a benchmark to boost learning among targeted student groups across the city.

Parthenon also looked at student test scores and how much they improved from 2011 to 2012 compared with similar students at other schools.

Nearly 60 percent of Newark’s elementary and middle schools — 43 district schools and seven charters — are “falling further behind,” the report says, because their students’ test scores are low and stagnant.

Four district schools and three charters among the 86 analyzed are “beating the odds” with high test scores and high score growth, the report found.

The report does not name any schools with test scores flagged as examples of success or failure, making it difficult to know, based on the findings, whether children attend a successful or failing school.

Another report released two weeks ago by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that statewide, students in charter schools learn more than their district school counterparts. But that report also failed to name the schools included in the analysis.

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said both reports show Newark charter schools’ success “can’t be explained away by simply saying charter schools are serving a different population.”

The Parthenon report found that among the 43 percent of Newark students classified as “highest need,” charter schools enroll 3 percent and district schools enroll 40 percent.

High school performance also was covered in the report, and statistics reveal a bleak picture.

Only a quarter of students enrolled in Newark’s 18 magnet and traditional high schools entered ninth grade prepared, test results show. Charter high schools were excluded from the analysis.

In addition, only 4 percent of students who enter high school after failing tests in eighth grade passed HSPA, the state’s traditional high school graduation exam.

Though all students enrolled in the district’s magnet schools have a greater likelihood of graduating from high school prepared for college or a career, only a small number of mostly top students gain admission to the competitive schools.

Last year, nearly 80 percent of the city’s eighth-graders applied to magnet schools, but only 27 percent were admitted, indicating students of all types aspire to attend magnets, while only a fraction are prepared for admission.

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