All Schools Rise, Indeed: Camden Gets a Clean Bill of Health

Let me say at the outset that New Jersey school boards and administrators regard the state accountability assessment process, called the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), as one would a colonoscopy.  Every three years the State comes in and invasively probes the plumbing of districts’ inner workings, including a microscopic examination of five categories of performance: Personnel, Operations, Instruction and Program, Governance, and Fiscal Management. Districts typically dread “getting QSAC’d”: The preparation is labor-intense because every document, test score, policy, regulation, process must be readied for exposure. Barring complications — i.e., receiving an 80 percent in each category — the district is given a clean bill of health. If any defects are unearthed, the district is subject to Corrective Action Plans and more frequent examinations.

Discomfort aside, this enervating process is an accurate gauge of a district’s health.

Camden Public Schools has a long history of terrible outcomes on QSAC. But suddenly the district is crowing about results from its self-assessment, which precedes the state’s. From yesterday’s press release:

The Camden City School District today published the summary findings from its most recent Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) self-assessment, which reveals marked progress in four out of the five key measures of school districts’ effectiveness and accountability. The latest results, which were first shared with the public at a recent Board of Education meeting, show improvements in Camden’s Instruction & Programs, Governance, Operations, and Personnel management scores.

Prior to the Superintendent’s appointment in 2013, the District earned less than 50% in four out the five QSAC measures of District effectiveness. According to its latest self-assessment, which will be audited and confirmed by the County Superintendent’s Office this spring, Camden has now scored above the 50% threshold in all areas, and is at or above 80% in two measures.

Here are the actual scores over the last six years:

Full QSAC Scores for the last three District Performance Reviews

QSAC Performance measure SY11-12

County Assessment

 

 

State

Revises QSAC

Tool

SY14-15

County Assessment

SY17-18

Self-Assessment

Percent point change since SY11-12
Operations 47% 40% 90% +43
Personnel 19% 20% 80% +61
Governance 33% 66% 70% +37
Instruction & Program* 9% 11% 52% +41
Fiscal Management 79% 64% 52% -27

 

See what I mean? From 19 percent to 80 percent in Personnel, from 47 percent to 90 percent in Operations.  Clean as a whistle! Even the 52 percent in Instruction and Programs (this is the category that most often obstructs districts’ passage of QSAC because it incorporates student growth based on assessments)  is far better than 2011-2012’s dismal 9 percent.

Seven years ago the responses to Camden QSAC results included these:

Camden’s Mayor Dana Redd :“The district is in disarray, and we need help”; David Sciarra of Education Law Center: “The children have effectively lost a year”; Board President Susan Dunbar-Bey: “In instruction [7 percent] that could not possibly be correct. I don’t believe it.”  Then-School Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young, who had been absent for 221 days over the last two years, had no comment.

Compare those results to this year:

“While QSAC is just one measure of District progress, the efforts we’ve made to modernize and improve District operations is having a positive impact on student learning. Drop outs are falling, test scores are rising, and staff is reporting improved instruction in our schools,” said Superintendent [Paymon] Rouhanifard. “Since I arrived in Camden, my top priority has been to give our schools the supports they need to build strong climates and deliver improved academic results. The latest QSAC District Performance Review shows that while we are not there yet, Camden is making progress toward effective and accountable school district administration.”

And,

“Student achievement is built upon a strong foundation of policies and structures that work consistently to allow educators to deliver academically for our students,” added Advisory Board of Education President Martha F. Wilson. “Working together, Camden City School District is beginning to close the achievement gap.”

One advisory note: this is the self-assessment, not the State’s probe. However, during Rouhanifard’s superintendency QSAC monitors’ scores tend to mirror the district’s because Camden Public Schools, at last, is honest with itself and the community. Naysayers aside — just this past November Camden teacher union president Keith Benson accused Superintendent Rouhanifard of  exercising “zero accountability” and “withholding QSAC scores — all signs point towards a clean and clear upwards trajectory for Camden schoolchildren. You know what? Sometimes state takeovers work.

What do you think?

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