Camden students who took the state PARCC test for the first time this year scored far below other cities in New Jersey, according to results released by the district last week.
Camden students in grades three through 11 took the test for the first time in the spring. About 6 percent of district students in grades three through eight are proficient in language arts, with about 4 percent testing proficient in math.
Just 5 to 8 percent of high school students tested at close to the statewide proficiency rate in language arts. For math, that number was 1 to 3 percent of high school students.
The district's results, among the worst in the state to be released thus far, were not unexpected. Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, appointed by Gov. Christie to lead the chronically failing district, had warned that the first year of administering PARCC - or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers - would likely drive down scores because the test sets higher standards.
"The kids didn't dramatically change from last year," district spokesman Brendan Lowe said. "The scale at which they're being assessed has changed."
Students in other cities also scored low, according to released figures. Between 10 and 17 percent of Trenton students in grades three through eight are proficient in language arts, and between 4 and 14 percent are proficient in math. In Newark, also under state control, those figures are between 17 to 28 percent, and 17 and 22 percent, respectively.
Twelve to 20 percent of high school students in Trenton demonstrated proficiency in language arts, with zero to 7 percent demonstrating proficiency in math. In Newark, 19 to 28 percent of high school students met expectations for their grades in language arts, with 5 to 18 percent meeting proficiency for math.
State officials have said that scores on new tests should serve as a baseline for future comparisons. In October, the state Department of Education released scores showing that more than half of New Jersey's students in grades three through 11 did not meet expectations for their grade levels in math and English.
PARCC has drawn criticism from the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, for the amount of time required by the testing; some parents have chosen to boycott the test. State officials have not released the number of students who chose not to take the exams, though the NJEA and other education groups have estimated that tens of thousands of students opted out.
In Camden, it was unclear how many students in the under-10,000-student district might have opted out of the test, but generally, Lowe said about 35 percent of the district's students are chronically absent.
Also last week, Camden school officials said the district is making progress overall, according to findings by county and state evaluators on the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC). New Jersey school districts are evaluated through QSAC every three years in terms of fiscal management, governance, instruction, operations, and personnel. Each district conducts a self-evaluation, followed by a state review.
By most accounts, Camden's last QSAC was a disaster. In 2011, the district gave itself a perfect 100 percent in personnel, 98 percent in operations, 78 percent in fiscal management, 67 percent in governance, and 61 percent in instruction. In the 2012 state review, however, the district received failing grades in most categories.
This year, the district's self-evaluation scores matched the state's review in most categories. The county representatives' score in governance was twice as high as the score the district gave itself, because the district finished updating its policy manual after doing its self-evaluation.
"You have to be honest with the challenges you see," Rouhanifard said. "The district, for a long time, wasn't very honest in its assessment of itself."