How Do Low Expectations Work For Asbury Park’s Special Needs Kids? Legislators and State Board Members Pay Heed.

On Tuesday I commented on the New Jersey Department of Education’s proposal to the State Board of Education to lower standards for high school graduation. Instead of focusing on what NJ parents really need — clear information about school quality and student progress towards independent adulthood (70% of NJ community college students have to take remedial courses on content they should have mastered in high school)  — the DOE, with the backing of Gov. Murphy/NJEA leaders (not sure they’re distinguishable anymore), will lower testing requirements to the minimum required under federal law.

These testing recommendations, offered as a compromise by Commissioner Lamont Repollet when the Board nixed his original package (the new proposal adds Geometry) are incompatible with a state that values clear data on student academic growth. It is, however, compatible with Repollet’s superintendency at Asbury Park, one that continues to this day under his hand-picked successor Sancha Gray. Asbury Park’s disregard for student growth comes out most clearly when we look at students with disabilities. So often they serve as canaries in the coalmine, harbingers of systemic problems.

And those systemic problems — a penchant for photo ops, a disdain for data, low expectations for students  — now infect the entire state.

Last spring, of the 242 Asbury Park students with disabilities who took the state math test last year, 1.24% met proficiency standards. That places the district 513th out of 515 districts with reported data. Of the 290 Asbury Park students with disabilities who took the state English Language Arts (ELA) test, 1.05% met proficiency standards. That’s also 513th out of 515 districts with reported data.

Whoa! But Asbury Park is really poor, right? After all, it’s an Abbott district. That must account for students’ dismal performance, even with a total annual cost per pupil of $42,382 . (FYI, 92% of that money comes from state and federal taxes.)

Actually, according to DOE data, Asbury Park isn’t that poor anymore. At the district’s middle school, for example,  51.4% of students are classified as economically-disadvantaged. (It’s less at the high school.) For comparison, at Prospect Park Boro district (not classified as an Abbott on that obsolete list), 68.9% of students are classified as economically-disadvantaged with dramatically fewer resources available:  Total annual cost per pupil is only  $16,986. Let’s also look at a Camden middle school students, another Abbott: At Dr. Henry H. Davis Elementary School (K-8) 71% of students are classified as economically-disadvantaged and total annual cost per pupil is $28,219

So how do these districts compare in their academic stewardship of special needs kids?

At Prospect Park Boro, 3.66% of students with disabilities met proficiency standards in math, more than double Asbury Park,  and just about the same percentage as in Asbury Park met proficiency standards in ELA (1.03%). Remember, that’s with 60% fewer resources. In Camden 1.5% met proficiency standards in math and 2.03% met proficiency standards in ELA. 

In other words, districts with more economically-disadvantaged students and far less money per pupil outperformed children in Asbury Park. 

(Note to Bruce Baker, Education Law Center, Mark Weber, etc.: Money is necessary but not sufficient on its own to achieve equity. And for an example of how Asbury Park fails special needs kids, see this profile of 7-year-old Jamir.)

Wow. That was wonky. Sorry. The point is that Repollet’s culture of low expectations, embodied in his scheme called The 64 Floor, produces low student outcomes in Asbury Park. Now he’s infusing the State DOE with the same culture. In fact, according to the DOE presentation at the BOE meeting, in two years students will be able to completely bypass any standardized testing after 9th grade. That’s right: Even though technically we have 11th grade tests (which will measure proficiency for 8th, 9th, and 10th grade-level work, but whatever) the classes of 2023-2025 won’t even have to take them because they can “access the portfolio appeals process” without having anything to appeal because, well, they never took the test in the first place. 

Is this really the direction we want to head in? Are we so grim about our children’s potential that we’re willing to sign on to this charade? 

Apparently so. There’s a slim hope that, after the November elections the State Assembly will relocate its spine and pass a law that allows for more flexibility in when we administer high school tests. (The Senate already passed that bill.) Or maybe in February the State Board will stand up for kids and families. But, short of that, we’ll just keep playing the same  game of how-low-can-you-go.

What do you think?

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