As a district, Fair Lawn scored in the 'Above Average' range in a statewide survey of arts education programs in New Jersey, but some schools within the district fared better than others.
The survey, released Thursday, found a correlation between schools with more arts education programs and greater proficiency scores on the language sections of the state's High School Proficiency Assessment.
Forrest and Westmoreland Elementaries scored best among district schools, individually receiving a "High" ranking, the top ranking possible in the survey. All other elementary schools and Thomas Jefferson Middle School received "Above Average," marks. Fair Lawn High School was rated only "Average." Memorial Middle School was not included in the survey.
Fair Lawn elementary and middle schools compared favorably to other elementary and middle schools in the county, the state, and within their District Factor Group (DFG). Fair Lawn High School, however, scored below other high schools in the county, state and within their District Factor Group, according to the report.
The report is a follow-up to one conducted in 2007, and is a joint project of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the state Department of Education, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, ArtPride New Jersey Foundation, and Quadrant Arts Education Research.
According to Robert Morrison, project coordinator of the report and founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, the report compiled survey responses from about 99 percent of the schools asking for information on as many as 26 different areas, such as the number of arts teachers and class offerings, facilities, and funding resources the school has.
Morrison said each school was then assigned a score, based on the school's ranking in each area. A school-by-school report for all participating districts in the state is available on the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership website.
"The reason we use an index is to allow schools to do well differently," Morrison said. He added that because of the indexing, "it takes some doing to get a below average score."
The 2007 survey was undertaken at the behest of the NJ Department of Education to measure how well schools were fulfilling the state's requirement for arts education, which includes requirements to meet the Core Curriculum Standards with programs in music, theater, dance and visual arts.
But those requirements aren't always met—Morrison said the first report found some schools were awarding diplomas to students who did not meet state requirements because the schools did not offer the mandated arts classes.
"There were a number of issues like that that rose to the top, and corrective steps were taken," he said.
While many may expect the scores to be higher in the more affluent schools in the state, Morrison said that's not always the case.
"I walk into schools all the time where they don't have the resources some of these schools do, and they have wonderful programs," he said. "These principals will walk over hot coals for the success of the programs.
"I've seen some of the strongest arts programs in some of the poorest districts," Morrison added.
The report was released as part of a coordinated "Arts Day in New Jersey" program held Thursday and aimed at highlighting not only arts education, but also the economic and cultural impact arts have in the state.