More than a year into New Jersey's takeover of the struggling Camden School District, student test scores have shown few signs of improvement, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said Monday.
Just 21 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored at or above the state-mandated proficiency level in English, according to state testing for the 2013-14 school year, with 31 percent demonstrating proficiency in math - rates unchanged from last year.
Testing for 11th-grade students showed 57 percent of students were proficient in English, an increase over last year's 41 percent. And 25 percent demonstrated proficiency in math - a 5 percent increase over last year.
"We should always be mindful of incremental progress," Rouhanifard said at a news conference in the library of Octavius V. Catto Family School in East Camden. "But incremental progress is not good enough."
Overall, officials said, just three out of every 21 Camden students are proficient in both subjects. And, as in past years, Camden's scores fell far below the state averages: Statewide, 66 percent of third- to eighth-grade students tested as proficient for English, 75 percent for math. In terms of 11th-grade students statewide, 93 percent are proficient in English, 79 percent in math.
In the coming weeks, Rouhanifard will meet with families at each school to discuss the results as part of a school-by-school review. The district also will seek feedback from students, staff, and parents, and use that information to make major course adjustments as needed.
"We will not ultimately become the thriving city we would like to be unless we realize the potential of our youth," Rouhanifard said.
Rouhanifard also pointed to bright spots in the district, such as the Catto school, which has demonstrated improvement in student performance for three years, and Harry C. Sharp School in Cramer Hill, which has the highest math-proficiency score of any elementary school in the district and has boosted English scores. Cooper's Poynt, Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, and Dudley Elementary also have also shown improvement, he said.
The test results also reveal a disparity between test scores in the city's public and charter schools. In charter schools, the percentage of students proficient in English and math is about twice as high.
Mayor Dana Redd noted several changes to the district since Rouhanifard took over last year, like enhanced teacher training; career development; and better technology in classrooms. The district is developing a new curriculum, and more students are attending preschool than ever before.
Resources for student safety, like the revival of the Safe Corridors program that helps children get to school, are crucial for improving student performance, she said.
"With these measures in place, students will be able to devote their attention to what matters most," she said.
Redd said officials were committed to working with members of the police force, business community, and all other city groups in finding ways to improve the schools.
"We are not laying blame at anyone's step," she said. "Those days are long past."
Kevin Barfield, president of the city's parent advisory council, said the idea of holding family meetings seemed like an attempt on the part of the district to show it was taking parents' concerns seriously.
But as much as some parents would appreciate having a chance to voice their complaints, he said, many of the district's problems stem from systemic failures that many parents are not equipped to recognize, like outdated textbooks and curriculum.
"Parents don't necessarily understand something like, is their child learning things on the right grade level?" he said. "Just because your kid is coming home with an A or a B, you don't know that the curriculum your child is using is the one that will give them the education they need."