Aiming to Coach Students to Excellence in Exams
I remember the pressure to do well on standardized testing when I was a child, but this is intense. Watching the school fail as a consequence of not doing well was never on our minds as eigth-graders.
As public schools everywhere gear up for the annual state assessments, few others have as much to prove – or as much at stake. Newton, with 500 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, has come under escalating sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law because many of its students have scored below proficiency on the standardized test known as NJ ASK, which covers language arts, math and science. It is one of only 4 schools in this city – and among 38 schools in New Jersey, 57 in New York and 6 in Connecticut – that have missed testing benchmarks for seven consecutive years and now risk being shut down or overhauled if there is no sign of improvement.
Under growing pressure, Newton’s administrators have sought to rebuild the academic programs with help from Seton Hall University’s College of Education and Human Services and the powerful Newark Teachers Union. In the past year, the alliance has brought free I.B.M. laptops and extensive classroom training to Newton’s teachers, and a longer school day for students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades (the union had to sign off on the schedule change). It has also boosted morale among teachers and students, with academic pep rallies and free Seton Hall basketball tickets, and created a support network to address longstanding problems like broken classroom intercoms, a run-down playground and lack of parental involvement at the school.