School board candidates respond to test scores

Most below average

The Hoboken Board of Education received the public school students’ 2015-2016 year state test scores last month, and although some grade levels showed improvement, most scores were still below the state average.
The standardized test, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), was taken by the district’s students for the first time two years ago.
The state recently sent out numbers for the percentage of students who scored high enough to be on track to the next grade.
While the results were mixed, the district’s eighth graders seemed to fare the worst, with only 2 percent of students achieving the top two levels in math, down from 9 percent of eighth graders last year.
The six candidates in the upcoming Nov. 8 Board of Education election – a slate of incumbents running against a slate of challengers – were contacted to respond to the test scores last week.

The test

The PARCC exam tests students from third to 11th grade on English language arts/literacy and mathematics and is meant to show whether a child meets grade level expectations.
The PARCC scores are ranked on five levels. Students in the “Level 1” category earned scores between 650 and 700 and “did not yet meet expectations.” Students achieving 810 to 850 are considered Level 5 and “exceeded expectations.”
Students who score on Levels 4 and 5 are considered on track to move to the next grade level, while students in Levels 1, 2, or 3, may need additional support in the coming year.
The district received percentages of how many students achieved scores in the top categories, and how many were below par.

Scores by school and grade

The following are the English language scores for each grade in each school.
For third graders in Calabro School, located in the center of town, 41.7 percent of students scored on a level 4 or 5. This is a decrease from last year, in which 72.2 percent of third graders at Calabro scored at a level 4 or 5.
Some of the other scores represent big changes from last year, and Superintendent of Schools Christine Johnson thought there may be errors. For instance, 90 percent of students in the fourth grade scored at levels 4 and 5 as opposed to last year’s 20 percent. 39 percent of fifth graders scored on levels 4 and 5, a decrease from the previous year’s 43 percent. And 20 percent of sixth graders scored at levels 4 and 5, a significant decrease from the previous year’s 72.8 percent.
According to Johnson, “the Calabro scores are kind of all over the place. There is no rhyme or reason.” Johnson believes there may be a reporting error.
“There seems there is a core group of students test scores that may not have been included in the overall percentage,” said Johnson
Connors School on Second Street showed increases in English language arts test scores across all grade levels. Third graders went from 19 percent of students who achieved scores on levels 4 and 5 to 30.4 percent. Fourth graders jumped from a 31.8 percent to 62 percent. Fifth graders increased from 13.6 percent to 37 percent and sixth graders went from a 20 percent to 72 percent.
Wallace School on Eleventh Street was a mixed bag when it came to their English language arts scores. Third grade scores increased from 42.3 percent to 60 percent. Fourth grade students increased from 34 percent to 40 percent. Fifth graders decreased from a 39 percent to a 34 percent and the sixth grade increased from 44.7 percent to a 50.8 percent.
At the middle school level, the seventh grade English language arts scores increased from 26 percent to 27 percent and the eighth grade increased from 30 percent to 37 percent.
Last year At Hoboken High School 16 percent of ninth graders achieved a score on level 4 or level 5 and this increased to 25 percent this year. The 10th grade increased from a 17 percent to 18.4 percent and the 11th grade decreased from a 20.7 percent to a 20 percent.

State averages

The state averages for the English language arts section were almost all higher than Hoboken’s scores. Statewide, 47.5 percent of third graders achieved Level 4 or 5. 53.5 percent of fourth graders scored on a level 4 or 5, 53.3 percent of fifth graders scored on the top two levels, and 52.3 percent of students in the sixth grade scored a level 4 or 5.
At the middle school level, 56.3 percent at the seventh grade and 55.2 percent of students in the eighth grade scored in the top two levels.
For high school, 48.6 percent of students in the ninth grade, 43.4 percent of students in the 10th grade and 39.1 percent of students in the 11th grade scored at a level 4 or 5.
There were a handful of cases in which students in certain schools exceeded the state average. For third grade, Wallace students surpassed the state average in English by 12.5 percent. In the fourth grade, Connors and Calabro exceeded the state average by 8.7 percent and 36.5 percent respectively. In the fifth grade, Connors surpassed the state average by 19.7 percent.

Math scores

For math, scores at the small Calabro Primary School were as confusing as they were in English. The percentage of third graders who achieved scores on levels 4 or 5 decreased from a 61.2 percent to a mere 8.3 percent. In the fourth grade the scores increased from a 26.7 percent to 50 percent. In the fifth grade the scores decreased from the previous year’s 29 percent to 15.4 percent and in the sixth grade the scores decreased from 46 percent to 10 percent.
Connors’ percentages increased in grades three and five but decreased in grades four and six. In third grade, students achieving level 4 or 5 increased from 33.3 percent to 37 percent in the 2016 academic year. In grade four they decreased from 50 percent to 48 percent. In the fifth grade they increased from 14 percent to 22.2 percent and in the sixth grade students who achieved level 4 or 5 scores decreased from 25 percent to 13 percent.
At Wallace all grades showed in increase except for the fifth grade. The third grade increased from a 54 percent to a 63 percent. The fourth grade increased from a 24.6 percent to a 46 percent. The fifth grade went from a 32.2 percent to a 26.4 percent and the sixth grade increased from a 29 percent to a 31 percent.

The eighth grade did not fare well, decreasing from 7 percent to 2 percent.
In Hoboken Junior High School, the seventh grade achieved the same 19 percent of students who achieved scores on levels 4 or 5 in math as the previous year.
But the eighth grade did not fare well, decreasing from 7 percent to 2 percent.
Johnson said this could be because the eighth grade did not have teacher stability as the grade had three math teachers through the course of the year.
Math at the high school level is divided into algebra 1, geometry, and algebra II instead of by grade level. Algebra I remained consistent with a 19 percent and geometry increased from a 4 to a 6 percent. Algebra II decreased from a 4 to a 2 percent.

State averages

The math scores at the upper grade levels were much lower than state averages. In elementary schools, they were closer.
The state averages in math for students who achieved scores on a level 4 or 5 were 51.7
percent for third grade, 46.6 percent at fourth grade, 47.2 percent at fifth grade 42.9 percent at sixth grade.
In the seventh grade the state average is 38.7 percent, and 25.6 percent in the eighth grade.
In algebra I the state average is 41.2 percent in geometry it is 27 percent and in Algebra II it is 41.5 percent.
For third grade, Wallace surpassed the states math average by 11.3 percent. For the fourth grade, both Connors and Calabro surpassed the state averages by 1.4 percent and 3.4 percent respectively.

Candidates respond

“The Hoboken administration and staff are resilient,” said Johnson in an email. “We know that we have critical work to do. We are committed to that work by raising the bar of expectations for all students.”
The school board candidates were contacted throughout last week to respond to the test scores.
Jennifer Evans, a current school board member up for reelection, said that the PARCC test scores are below the state average “but unfortunately, they are on par with scores from other New Jersey districts also serving majority at-risk students.”
She said she believes that where the scores are rising, they validate the initiatives put in place under Johnson’s leadership. “These include expanding Response to Invention for reading and math at all our elementary schools and new focus on academic rigor not only in the classroom but at home through nightly reading and writing assignments for all children, and a longer school day,” said Evans.
Incumbent Sheillah Dallara did not return two phone calls and an email by press time.
Board member and candidate Irene Sobolov, did not respond to an emails and a phone call by press time.
The Parents United ticket, made up of Francis Benway, Jessica Nelson, and Jennifer Rossini, commented on the scores.
Benway said that everyone agrees that the scores need to improve and that the tests are difficult. He said in order to improve scores; he would ensure that increased reading and writing requirements would be stretched across the curriculum and not just in the English department.
Rossini said “There are so many things that go into testing. It really takes just one day out of many and then bases lots of results on that one day. Kids can be tired, in a bad mood, etc., and that can affect test scores. I also know there is a lot of anxiety about testing. With that being said, testing is the only way to compare. I think that standardized testing needs to be dramatically overhauled and actual grades need to be taken into account. I think teacher evaluations need to be had and the tests need to be a little more subjective.”
Nelson said Johnson has made “tremendous strides” through her programs. She said, “She needs strong support from reformers like Francis Benway, Jennifer Rossini, and myself.”

Marilyn Baer can be reached at


Candidates respond to public questions

As the Board of Education election draws nearer, residents are likely to get mailers in their mailboxes making claims against the candidates. Tough questions have been asked at a recent debate at the Elks lodge and accusations have been made in comments on the Reporter’s website.
We gave the candidates the opportunity to respond to some of the legitimate questions that have been asked.
Incumbent Irene Sobolov has three children, one of whom went to Hoboken High School, but the other two are at other schools. Some have asked why she does not put her children in the school she has championed.
When asked at the Elks forum about this, Sobolov said she gave her two sons the choice and they chose to attend the county high school instead of Hoboken High. She said she respected their choices.
The members of the opposing slate of non-incumbents, the Parents United slate, has been criticized for not having ever attended a Board of Education meeting before the election.
Jennifer Rossini responded that she has not gone due to work and caring for her special needs son.
Francis Benway and Jessica Nelson said they watch the meetings on TV to keep up with the issues. Meetings are held on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m.
The Parents United candidates have also been blasted for criticizing Hoboken High School. At the forum, they said the test scores need to improve.
Benway, who himself graduated from Hoboken High School, said at the forum, “As of right now, there is no way I would send my child to Hoboken High School.” In a followup interview, Benway said he had reflected on that statement and wanted to clarify it. “I would love for my daughter to be a Red Wing and have the same high school experience I did,” he said, but he hopes that the curriculum and programs at the high school will improve by the time his daughter is looking at her options.
At the forum, Rossini also said she would not send her child to the high school at this point, and Nelson said “As a single mother I don’t really have any other choice but to send my child to a public school.”
As for the candidates’ volunteerism, Benway said that in the past he has helped coach Pop Warner football and Little League baseball. Nelson said her twins just started kindergarten in the charter school a month and a half ago.

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