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A Successful School

Another Successful School

State Assessment Results

So far on this website we’ve focused on schools in severely disadvantaged communities; some of these are failing their students, others are successful in terms of their students’ achievement and graduation rates. We can also learn from examples in more fortunate communities with schools that have gone from “good” to “outstanding.”

A New Jersey example of such a school is Princeton Charter School (PCS). (See “Definitions” on this website for an explanation of charter schools.) We expect high academic achievement in a community like Princeton, with its population of well educated parents who hold high expectations for their children. Students in Princeton Regional Schools do, on average, score in the top tier of schools on New Jersey’s state assessment programs. But even in this high-flying environment, test scores for PCS are outstanding.

All New Jersey public schools, including charter schools, must take the New Jersey’s Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK) for elementary and middle schools. PCS students are “Proficient” as follows:

Grade 3: Language Arts – 100%; Mathematics – 100%

Grade 5: Language Arts – 88%; Mathematics – 96%

Grade 8: Language Arts – 96%; Mathematics -98%; Science – 100%

These results are better by some 40 percentage points than the state averages. PCS scores slightly exceed those for Princeton Regional Elementary Schools and John Witherspoon Middle School, but the differences are not significant. The Regional School System’s results consistently place it among the top scoring districts in the state. Clearly, the community as a whole is well-served by all of its public schools. (Independent schools are not obliged to take part in the New Jersey assessments.)

PCS receives the highest possible rating of ten by the Great Schools Rating System. The school has been designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

Educational Records Bureau Results

From its inception 13 years ago, PCS has also administered annually the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) assessments in grades 3-8. Unlike most standardized tests, the ERBs compare a school’s students with two select samples: those in Independent schools, and those in affluent, high-achieving suburban communities like Princeton. Averages for these two populations are substantially higher than those for an entire state’s students or the more common national standards. Some ERB results for PCS are these:

Grade Three: Reading Comprehension

PCS Suburban Independent

75%ile 86%ile 76%ile

50%ile 62%ile 51%ile

25%ile 39%ile 29%ile

Explanation: The first number is read seventy-fifth percentile. Just 14 percent of suburban students (86%ile) score as well as 25 percent of PCS students. The highest scoring independent students and that group’s average student scores approximately equal those for PCS.

The lowest scoring PCS students are about equal to their independent counterparts, but show a considerable advantage over suburban students; that is, 39% of suburban student score as low as the lowest 25% of PCS students.

Grade Five: Mathematics

PCS Suburban Independent

75%ile 92%ile 91%ile

50%ile 84%ile 81%ile

25%ile 73%ile 65%ile

Explanation: The advantage for PCS students is most conspicuous for the lowest achieving quartile. In mathematics, the lowest scoring one-quarter of PCS students equals 73 percent of suburban students and 65 percent of independent students.

Grade Eight: Writing Mechanics

PCS Suburban Independent

75%ile 95%ile 92%ile

50%ile 88%ile 82%ile

25%ile 75%ile 65%ile

Explanation: PCS’s advantage over the comparison groups is remarkably high. Fully one-quarter of PCS’s high scoring students match the top five percent of suburban students, and the highest achieving eight percent of independent students. . Differences among the low-scoring quartile are even more notable, with the lowest achieving one-quarter of PCS students equal to 75 percent of suburban and 65 percent of Independent students.

Writing Mechanics scores for PCS’s grade eight students are corroborated by results from the ERB Writing Assessment Program.

Why is PCS Successful?

Broderick Boxley, Head of School a PCS, attributes the school’s academic successes to several factors:

  • The school’s founders wrote into the charter a primary goal of high academic achievement for every PCS student. This goal has been pursued consistently with an intense focus on student study and learning. Parents who apply to the school are told of this expectation; some choose PCS for that reason, while others want a different program, and enroll their children elsewhere. As a result, the heavy emphasis on academic learning is widely supported by PCS parents.

  • Rapid response: teachers are charged to report promptly to parents and administrators any student who is falling behind. The Supplementary Instruction Program then provides small group or individual tutoring. Middle school mathematics courses are “tracked” at three levels for each grade.

  • English and mathematics classes are held for 60 minutes daily. A free reading period is included in every school day.

  • Homework is assigned daily in English and math, and three times weekly in other classes.

In the explanation above, one sees that PCS’s curriculum is driven by a priority on academic achievement; that emphasis is supported by teachers and parents. PCS students spend more time in focused study than is common in most elementary and middle schools. Apparently the academic focus, bolstered by additional time and effort in and out of school contribute rich dividends to PCS students.