What’s Your “Summer 2015 Plan”?

New Jersey just released new report cards for all schools in the state. The information now available, including indicators of college- and career-readiness and excellent “peer school” comparisons, is invaluable. And it is deeply discomfiting for many of the state’s complacent schools and districts.

While the reports reinforce just how tragically low-performing the state’s urban districts are, they also show that the preening of many leafy suburban communities is unwarranted. Said state commissioner Chris Cerf, this data “will make clear that there are a number of schools out there that perhaps are a little bit too satisfied with how they are doing when compared with how other schools serving similar populations are doing.”

In other words, lots of schools and districts brag about their AP and IB programs, graduation rates, and so forth. But when you look at their AP passage rates and , you quickly see that things aren’t so rosy. Far fewer kids than thought are truly prepared for post-secondary work.

Then when you compare some of these contented schools to other schools serving student bodies with similar demographics, you see that they are actually significantly underperforming their peers.

This should serve as a wake-up call to lots of New Jersey communities. A number of states with sophisticated school-rating systems, like Florida, have been providing such warnings to middle-class and affluent areas for some time.

I’m hopeful that such efforts will force parents, teachers, administrators, and school boards to undertake some tough self-assessments. It would behoove them to do so now because a much harsher gauntlet is on the horizon.

In the spring of 2015—assuming that the two testing consortia hold together—states will administer the first round of Common Core–aligned assessments. If those tests end up true to their billing (meaning they are accurate predictors of college- and career-readiness), proficiency scores across the land will plummet (see today’s very good editorial from the NY Daily News and this in New York).

When those scores are publicly released in the summer of 2015, lots of parents are going to be looking for solutions. The reform community should have a response.

Unless there’s a clear playbook for how we should respond, the vacuum will be filled by excuses (The tests are wrong! Everything is fine!) and old, ineffective, but popular and establishment-friendly interventions (More spending! Reduce class sizes!).

If I were a state chief, I’d have a team, off to the side, working on this right now. We would be drafting new policies, working on communications plans, and much, much more.

The reform community has a well-known tool-kit for our most distressed schools. But a counterpart for our suburban schools is conspicuously missing.

Folks will be looking for answers soon.

So, what’s your Summer 2015 plan?

-Andy Smarick

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute”s Flypaper blog.

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