Vernon Township School District students were fairly successful in English Language Arts but need more support in math and science, according to results of the New Jersey Start Strong assessments given in the fall.
Vincent Gagliostro, the district’s director of curriculum, told the Board of Education on Feb. 9 that the results are not very detailed but they are instructionally useful.
Students are rated as “needs strong support,” “needs some support” or “needs less support.” “Less support being the goal, I guess,” he said.
Forty percent to 50 percent of students in grades 5-10 need less support in English Language Arts, while more fourth-graders need strong support, according to the results.
Most math students need strong support, with the biggest percentage needing more support in eighth-grade math and Algebra I.
Fewer than 20 students took the eighth-grade math test because most take Algebra I, Gagliostro said. “Any time there are less than 20 students, we don’t report the data because there is a chance of identifying students.”
About 43 percent to 47 percent of sixth-, ninth- and 12th-grade students need more support in science, according to the results.
Exams showed students with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged need the most support.
The Start Strong assessments were not meant to replace local assessments but most of the questions were pulled from the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments.
They were optional before the pandemic, but during the COVID-19 shutdown, there was no SLA testing for two years so Start Strong was required in the fall of 2021 and 2022. There is no word on whether it will be required this fall.
Help for students
To help students who need support, the district has a reading specialist and a math interventionist at Cedar Mountain Primary School as well as programs that give and remove support based on the needs of a specific student. Those are done in eight-week cycles, then the students move on to the next need.
The same is available at Rolling Hills Primary School, and that school also has multi-sensory reading support.
Similar programs are offered at Lounsberry Hollow School and Glen Meadow Middle School, and Glen Meadow also has math and literacy lab classes.
The high school will continue its Academic Summer Program for credit recovery for students who need it. There also is a program where students can come in for extra help during a teacher’s “duty period.”
“Their teacher may not be available, but another department teacher may be available, and they can go get assistance with that,” Gagliostro said.
New math program
The district plans to do a eight-week pilot program in math for grades K-5, using a curriculum popular in Europe.
”It is a well-researched program with a lot of fidelity,” Gagliostro said.
Students in grades K-2 will use the program five days a week, while those in grades 3-5 will do one lesson a week.
Two other New Jersey districts are doing pilot programs with the curriculum as well.
”It is a competency-based math approach where you’re more letting the kids discover what they’re doing and struggle through the process instead of rote memorization and repetition,” he said.
”It’s just a change of mindset from the programs that we’ve seen before.”
The current math program is outdated and up for renewal, he added.