Tap into Newark

By Kei-Sygh Thomas,

NEWARK, NJ – Newark schools have achieved significant gains over the last decade, according to a report from the New Jersey Children’s Foundation.

Both district and charter schools have seen growth in test scores, graduation rates, and student growth rates from 2006 to 2018.

The report, compiled by using publicly available test data for grades three through eight, focuses on the performance of Newark’s students during 2006 to 2018 to correspond with the expansion of charter schools and intensive reforms in district schools.

As the district transitions to full local control next yet, the data in the report intends to serve as a baseline for evaluating student academic progress, said New Jersey Children’s Foundation Executive Director Kyle Rosekrans.

“No one is saying victory lap, we’ve finished the job. It’s just a celebration of improvement,” said Rosenkrans. “We’ve performed better than almost every other high poverty school district in New Jersey and other parts of the country with comparable data.”

The report highlights four key findings:

  • Black students in Newark are now four times more likely to attend an elementary or middle school beating the state test performance average than they were a decade ago
  • Newark’s school system state test scores climbed from the bottom toward the top ranks when compared to 37 other high poverty school districts in New Jersey
  • Test scores, graduation rates, and student growth rates are all up at both district and charter schools even with minor year-over-year fluctuations
  • There are still 15,000 students attending 25 schools with low state test proficiency and low student test percentile growth.

In 2006, Newark was ranked 23rd out of 37 cities and towns in ELA proficiency, putting it in the 39th percentile for other high poverty cities. By 2018, Newark was ranked 8th out of 37 cities or towns in ELA proficiency putting it in the 81st percentile.

Newark’s average math test score increased from the 39th percentile to the 78th percentile during the same time period.

However, the data only looks at test scores for students in grades three through eight, not accounting for high school test proficiency performance or growth.

Charter schools have contributed to the citywide improvement. Performance and enrollment at charter schools — which is about a third of the city’s students — have gone up. There are more black students passing standardized reading and math tests as a result of that change, said Rosenkrans.

“Black students have flocked to charter schools and those schools have posted better results on average. As a result, the opportunity for black students to attend a school beating the state average has gone up,” he said, referring to those students in grades three through eight.

Charters schools are clustered in Newark’s predominantly black neighborhoods in the South, Central, and West wards.

Newark has a stronger sector, one that continues to grow, said Jesse Margolis of MarGrady Research, the team that compiled the report.

“Charters are part of the story, but not the whole story. There has been a substantial improvement in Newark schools in the last decade,” said Margolis.

The district achieved test gains and has helped drive citywide high school graduation rates from 62.5% to 77% between 2011 and 2018.

Data from the report is available on the New Jersey Children’s Foundation website with interactive tools for data exploration.

The organization will create a social media campaign to disseminate findings of the report for more people to see it and take action, said Rosenkrans.

“I want people to understand the historic progress that has been made to celebrate it. This is an achievement for teachers, kids, and some of the leaders,” he said. “We should celebrate that while focusing on the tremendous amount of improvement that has to happen. It is significant progress, but it isn’t good enough.”