In the recent school performance reports issued by the Christie administration, Columbia High School (CHS) ranked above average among peer schools in academics and very high in college and career readiness, but "significantly lags" in measures of graduation rates.
In a separate ranking, CHS was seventh in a countywide ranking of SAT scores.
The new reports, which are replacing the standard report cards, ranks the school on three different categories: academic achievement on Language Arts Literacy and Math sections of the New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA); college and career readiness which measures SAT, PSAT and participation in AP courses; and graduation and post-secondary graduation and drop out rates.
It also ranks schools against 30 peer schools based on free and reduced lunch, limited English proficiency programs or special education programs. Columbia High School is in a peer group with others including Fort Lee High, New Milford High and Ridgefield Memorial High in Bergen County; Morris Hills High and Parsippany High in Morris County; and Edison High and South Plainfield High in Middlesex County.
Statewide, Columbia High School was ranked in the 62nd percentile against its peers in Academic Achievement and 88th in College and Career Readiness. However, CHS ranked in the 10th percentile (and 26th percentile in the state) in the Graduation and Post-Secondary category.
The school's four-year graduation rate dropped from 92% in 2011 to 85% in 2012.
It missed one target in the College and Career Readiness category, that of the percentage of students taking at least one AP Test in English, Math, Social Studies or Science.
The following chart details the high school's rank:Performance Areas Peer Rank (Percentile) Statewide Rank (Percentile) Percent of Targets Met Academic Achievement 62 58 100% College & Career Readiness 88 83 80% Graduation and Post-Secondary 10 26
In elementary and middle school rankings, the district fared well in academic achievement compared to schools statewide and in its peer group: Tuscan (high in state ranking, above average in peer ranking), Seth Boyden (high, very high), Jefferson (high, high), South Mountain (very high, high), South Orange Middle School (very high, very high) and Maplewood Middle School (high, high). Only Clinton scored low, with an average state ranking and lagging in comparison to peer schools.
"The new school performance reports are a significant improvement in statewide reporting on the progress of individual schools," said SOMSD Superintendent Brian Osborne. "Overall, South Orange Maplewood Schools demonstrate high academic achievement and/or high growth when compared with both the state as a whole and their peer schools. The new reports are complex and very different, which will take some getting used to. We are looking carefully at all of the data both to ensure that is accurate and to inform our plans for continuous improvement."
Osborne continued, "We of course are taking note of all the data in the reports, including Clinton’s comparison to peer schools. It is encouraging that Clinton has very high student growth in comparison to both their school group and the state as a whole."
As for SAT scores, in 2011-12, Columbia High School had average SAT scores of 1574, just above the state benchmark of 1,550. It was seventh among high schools in Essex County.
The new ranking system, comparing schools with similar demographics, has caused controversy in some school districts. In West Orange, Interim Superintendent of Schools James O'Neill said acting New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has created the recent ranks to justify the $30 million spent on testing with no concern for misinformation in the report.
According to the report, the rank of academic achievement focused on two things, the Grade 11 HSPA tests, and Grade 10 biology test. Crisfield said he believes the tests are important but since they ultimately do not affect students unless they fail them, it is hard to motivate students to take them seriously.
"The only things that matters about this test [HSPA] is if you don't pass it," Crisfield said. "The rest of our kids, they take the HSPA it's like a break to them. Some take it seriously, a lot don't because it doesn't matter." He also said the biology test has no impact on students graduating high school.