District adminstrators and teachers are hard at work trying to bridge the achievement gap at Saddle Brook Middle School, which the state classified earlier this year as one of 10 Bergen County Focus Schools in need of improvement.
While its overall test scores are in line with schools in socioeconomically similar districts, middle school vice prinicipal and district test coordinator Robert Onorato said the middle school was classified as a Focus School because of the large achievement gap between its highest and lowest performing student subgroups -- Asian students and special education students, respectively.
"The irony here is the other schools in our District Factor Group and some of our neighboring communities where our scores have traditionally been higher are not Focus Schools," Onorato said Wednesday during a presentation to the Board of Education. "Because there wasn't that gap between their highest achieving students and their special ed students, because their highest achieving students did not achieve as our highest achieving students have."
Onorato acknowledged, however, that the district had some work to do to bring up test scores for special education students. While a gap exists between special education and Asian general education students from the moment they enter the district, Onorato said the gap widens progressively from the time the students enter third grade until they reach eighth grade.
To bridge the gap, Onorato said Saddle Brook administrators and teachers have been working with a representative from one of the state's Regional Achievement Centers, which partners with Focus Schools to set and implement clear data-driven goals for student growth.
Per the recommendation of the RAC specialist, the district is looking into implementing a comprehensive literacy and mathematics series in the middle school like the one it already has for the elementary grades.
"At the elementary schools, the special ed teachers are given the same materials to work with as the general population, when in the past they were using different materials," Onorato said. "We’re hoping that at the middle school we can continue that."
Onorato said he had spoken to the publishers of the elementary school's literacy and mathematics programs and learned that they also have books and learning materials for middle school children.
Superintendent Kathryn Fedina said the district hopes to adopt the RAC-recommended teaching materials for middle schoolers as soon as this year, budget permitting.
The district has also ensured this year that classroom special education collaborative teachers are certified in the subject area where they've been placed.
"Last year one of the collaborative teachers majored in Math, but was placed with the Language Arts department," Onorato said. "This year, the four collaborative teachers are all experts in the areas in which they were trained, so we hope that is going to carry over."
In addition to placing more emphasis on professional devlopment and collaboration between teachers, Fedina said the RAC representative will also be contacting the district's supervisor of special services and working with the Child Study Team and special education teachers to review data and best educational practices.