Eleventh grade students from the 2001-2002 exceeded state averages of students passing by nearly nine percent in High School Proficiency Assessment tests, a more demanding test than the test it replaces. Statewide, more than 96,000 kids took the test.
"Last year was the first year we had to take the HSPA," said Schools Superintendent Constantino Scerbo. "We had to do some realignment of curriculum to meet standards set by the state."
The new tougher test taken by students last year grilled them in language arts and mathematics, and Secaucus general education students managed to exceed state test score averages in both areas. In the language arts area, 95.8 of Secaucus students passed. The state average was 90 percent. In mathematics, 84 percent of Secaucus students passed, with the state a 76.8 percent. Of those passing both sections, 81.9 percent of Secaucus students accomplished it, while the state average was 74.5 percent.
To pass each section of the test, students were required to answer 200 of 300 questions correctly.
"I think this had a lot to do with the hard work of both students and faculty," Scerbo said, noting that the school district did not gear its whole educational curriculum to the test. "We have a lot of areas to cover besides what the state tests for."
Scerbo said other factors contributed to the successful scores in the test, including the school district's decision to move to block scheduling in the high school.
Intensive block scheduling breaks up the school day into larger chunks than the usual 42-minute class. Secaucus adopted an 80-minute class with the hope that it would allow sufficient time to immerse students more fully into their studies.
"This allowed us a larger period time to provide lessons," Scerbo said. "The students and faculty seemed to feel comfortable with the change."
Scerbo also noted that the district adopted a yearly in district test as well, which more fully aligned results with what the state required.
"This allowed us to see where our students were in regards to what the state would be testing," he said. "We got to look at each student's strengths and weaknesses, and address the weaknesses."
For students that show signs of weakness, Secaucus has a special review assessment program and a system of remedial programs in place during the school year that allowed the district to give extra help to these students to meet their needs.
"We try to identify problem areas early and to remediate them," Scerbo said, "so by the time they reach the 11th grade, we pretty much know how our students will do on the state test."
The yearly "thorough and efficient education reports" done by the school administrators base much of their goals for the upcoming year on these evaluations, seeking to improve those areas overall that have been weak in the past year. These goals are developed from a variety of sources, including input from the faculty. This could mean finding better educational materials or looking into new programs.
The passing grade in the new state tests is the second sign of significant success for the school district. Late last year, Secaucus High School was ranked 80th of the state's almost 600 school districts by New Jersey Monthly.
"I'm proud of what our students have accomplished," Scerbo said. "A few years ago, less than 50 percent of our students attended college, and now nearly 100 percent do. Our dropout rate is less than 1 percent. We are doing everything possible to keep our kids in school and make certain they do well."
Scerbo said the district is also about to introduce a new reading series called the Scott Foresman that provides material from award-winning writers as part of the study.
"This will be implemented from kindergarten to fifth grade, with another service for sixth through eighth grades," Scerbo said.
The idea behind the second series is to create a bridge between elementary school and middle school. As kids move from one level of school to another, they have a consistent system of study that would connect what they learn.
"This will help our students make the transition," Scerbo said.