It isn’t everyday that we get good news to celebrate in the world of education policy and politics in New Jersey. From the local level all the way up to the state level, the debates on education policy sometime seem endless. But the good news coming out of Camden on educational improvements for students is something we can all celebrate. And this good news can continue to inspire hope for future improvements there.
This is something worth cheering for because the trends in academic progress in Camden are not just showing improvements over 1-2 years. We are seeing steady progress in Camden over the past four years, which gives us confidence that the reforms underway there are continuing to work and benefit students across district, charter, and renaissance schools.
In a nutshell, the recent NJ SLA (the state assessment that replaced PARCC) scores are in, and there has been continued progress for Camden City School District students as well as renaissance students. (Charter school results have not been aggregated for the public yet.) There is absolutely much more work to be done; we would be remiss if we did not lead by saying that. However, the data recently revealed continue to build confidence in the reforms underway.
Here are the highlights: Across the district and renaissance schools, more students in grades 3-8 are proficient. From 2014-2015 to the most recent year 2018-19, the percentage of students scoring proficient in ELA in grades 3-8 across both district and renaissance schools has more than tripled from 6.5% to 21.1%. And the same trend holds in math where rates of student proficiency rose from 4.3% to 15.4%. Again, clearly much more work is needed but this represents steady growth.
When we look within those trends, there are some truly inspiring and impressive success stories – both among the district and renaissance schools. At Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, the growth in the percentage of students scoring proficient in English Language Arts from 2014-15 until 2018-19 is outstanding. It literally jumps off the page of the district’s assessment results report with an increase from 18% to 52.6%.
Among the renaissance schools, Camden Prep continued very strong performance that matches or is getting closer to the state averages. In 2018-19, 49.7% of students at Camden Prep scored proficient in ELA (compared to a state average of 58%), and 45.5% of students scored proficient in math (state average was 45%). It is highly encouraging to see students in both Creative Arts Morgan Village and Camden Prep performing so well.
At the high school level, when we look at combined district and renaissance schools, again more students are proficient; the rates have risen from 7.3% proficiency in ELA in 2014-15 to 18.7% in 2018-19, and from 2.1% to 5.8% in math over the same time period. Clearly much more progress is needed but these upward trends suggest momentum is building.
As evidenced by the trends above, all of this suggests steady and real academic growth for students over the past four years. Perhaps the two most hopeful notes to close on, as we continue to advocate for the policy changes needed to keep this momentum going — First, the promising trends at the schools like Creative Arts Morgan Village and Camden Prep are focused on 3rd-8th grade students. Those students are still relatively young. With those students getting a solid foundation in the early grades, we should continue to see progress as those students reach high school.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the progress underway at both district and renaissance schools gives us hope that a rising tide is continuing to lift all boats in Camden. Significantly more “lifting” is needed and more work remains to truly reach all students, but the most recent results show us that the progress at the renaissance schools did not come at the expense of district students. Students in both types of public schools can and are benefiting from the changes underway in Camden. It’s news like this that makes all of the debate on education policy worth it, and continues to inspire our work looking ahead.