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Officials Explain Fort Lee High School’s Drop in Rankings

Assistant Superintendent Sharon Amato said opening up AP classes to all students and changes in the way the state looks at dropout rates and students attending four-year versus two-year colleges impacted the school’s ranking.

Fort Lee school officials Monday addressed concerns about Fort Lee High School’s drop in rankings in New Jersey Monthly’s biennial report released last week.

According to the report, the local high school , based on data for the 2010-2011 school year.

“Of course it’s always a big concern to us when we drop in ranking and of course to the community as well,” said Assistant Superintendent Sharon Amato at Monday’s Fort Lee Board of Education meeting. “This is certainly a conversation worth having with parents, students and our administrative team.”

Amato said a major factor contributing to the drop in rankings was the fact that Fort Lee opened up its advanced placement classes to all students last year for the first time.

“Do we open up the advanced placement classes and give all students opportunities to learn and to maybe not score high on the AP test but get something out of it, or do we limit it and have stringent criteria, as we had in the past?” she said.

Another factor was that the state now looks at dropout rates differently, according to Amato.

“If a student decided in the middle of the senior year to go back to a foreign country—we’ve had a number of students do this—they’re counted in our dropout rates,” she explained. “Therefore the dropout rates were slightly higher.”

In addition, Amato said, the state changed how it rated schools based on the number of students attending four-year colleges versus those attending two-year colleges.

“These are certainly some of the reasons that could have changed our ranking,” she said. “As our test data comes available to us in [NJ SMART], which is a great tool that shows us comparisons of individual students, as well as those students from year-to-year, we’ll better be able to wrap our heads around why we dropped in ranking.”

The data upon which New Jersey Monthly’s rankings are based comes from the state Department of Education’s most recent New Jersey School Report Card, according to the publication.

But school board president Yusang Park said there are areas in which he would like to see Fort Lee students improve.

“We have to work on the average combined SAT score,” Park said. “And we can definitely improve on the HSPE Math.”

Park said those are examples of areas school officials can focus on when the board holds its upcoming, annual goal-setting session, but he also agreed with board vice president Linda McCue, who said she’d prefer to see more students given the opportunity to take advanced placement classes than to be overly concerned about rankings.

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Check back with Patch for more on Monday's BOE meeting.

William Mays August 28, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Yeah but some kids who deserve to be in it can't get in it by invitation only. I think they should just require kids to take a qualification test before they allow people to take the class.
Anna August 28, 2012 at 12:26 PM
AP and Honors classes suffer when some students can't keep up with the work, and it does the student no service when he receives a poor final grade in one of these classes. They should be only for those who are recommended and have high grades, and who can handle the level and amount of work; otherwise the AP or Honors classification is devalued. I disagree with the open-doors policy for these classes. Regarding the rankings, unfortunately people care about rankings, whether for market size, sports teams, colleges, high schools, whatever--right or wrong. It is true that these rankings can fluctuate wildly year over year, for numerous reasons including changes in the way variables are measured. But a year ago we were praising FLHS's achievements on the Morning Joe Show, based on improvements measured in one year. Therefore, we need a careful explanation from the superintendent's office as to what happened this time around. Was it a fluke? Will the school rise dramatically again next time? It would be very helpful to know more. By the way, this was the most civil BOE meeting I ever attended, and I congratulate Mr Park for the manner in which he conducted it.
Art Elmers August 28, 2012 at 01:21 PM
At least we are in the top 10 when it comes to overcrowding! What is the effect of overcrowding in the High School? Perhaps one of the reasons for the lower scores and rankings is Fort Lee's dislike of providing enough classrooms for our growing enrollment. FLHS, with an average class size of 23.1 was the eighth most crowded school in the top 100. While the much needed referendum passed last year is providing critical repairs, it only renovates science classrooms in the High School. Yes, classrooms are being added to the Middle School and School one. However, there are no new classrooms being added in the High School, and with the enrollment growing, we will see the average class size only going up and up. If Fort Lee hopes to continue to provide a quality education to our children, the overcrowding issue still needs to be addressed.
Wonk August 28, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Lots of excuses, but the bottom line is that under the watch of this current board of education and the administration of the current Superintendent Fort Lee High School has fallen to all time lows. They keep whining and blaming the past board members or administrations for problems while patting themselves on the back about how wonderful they think they are, but they have been in office long enough to effect positive changes, and they have not. Too many people on this board and in the community think they can do no wrong, but clearly they have done a bad job. They complain about former board members and leaders, but under the "old" leadership Fort Lee High School was ranked in the top 30 in the state. Now we are barely 100. That is not acceptable. Maybe they should spend less time ignoring the public's questions at meetings and answer for how they let this happen. We should all be very concerned. When schools drop in rankings, property values drop. This costs homeowners money. We need new leadership that will turn this around. Open AP classes is a terrible idea, and clearly had impacted us negatively. Hopefully this will be a wake up call to others in the community to get involved and make a positive impact on the schools.
Wonk August 28, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I agree Luca, AP should not be open to all students just those who excel. At one point they offered classes at the high school that you could earn college credit for, but were not considered AP. They were open to everyone and did not count negatively in the rankings. They are setting some kids up to fail, and hurting the school's reputation in the process.
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 03:17 PM
It is impossible to stretch the blame to the current administration for a ranking based upon 2010-2011 data. It defies logic. It is this kind of creative rationale that polarizes people and hinders productivity. It appears the new appointments are not going to be given an opportunity to make a difference since the old regime looks to any ripple to devalue and stifle advancement.
Baba O'Riley August 28, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Opening AP and Honors classes to all; that defeats the purpose! When I went to FLHS, I took AP American History and AP Biology. It was competitive to get in and competitive to stay in. Who thought of this idea!? If I may digress for a moment, are there any cuts from the sports teams? Does the school have a social promotion policy? I understand that the state changed the way rankings are calculated; then it is time to change gears. Improvise, adapt, overcome, survive and thrive or perish. If there is overcrowding (especially in the High School), use some creative thinking to alleviate this problem. For the 13K+ that I pay in property taxes with 50+% going to the BOE, we need to be in the top 25%!
Wonk August 28, 2012 at 05:30 PM
How does it possibly defy logic? Members of the current school board have been on for years; they are not brand new. The current super has been acting for months, but he was assistant for several years before that. My point is that they keep pointing to their predecessors as the problem even though our schools used to be ranked much higher. They refuse to answer questions about their misguided decisions, and it is costing all of the residents of Fort Lee. They have all done a terrible job with our schools that past few years and there needs to be a lot of change to get our schools back to where they were 5, 10, 15 years ago.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Wonk, while I can agree on blaming some of the Board members, as much as I don't like the current Supt, he couldn't have done anything while he was an Assistant Supt.
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 06:48 PM
It defies logic to blame the current Superintendent for a 2010 - 2011 analysis when he did not become acting Superintendent until November of 2011. It defies logic that you believe answering questions about whether a Board member is selling their co-op in anyway benefits the students or assists the community. You can't have it both ways, if the gaggle believe that the Board is inadequate, they should either put their names on the ballot or allow the Board and new administration to do their jobs in addressing the issues at hand. For a handful of obstructionists to attend every meeting and attempt to speak for the majority from the public pulpit, simply serves to stroke their own egos at the expense of me as a taxpayer.
Lisa Salvato August 28, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Luca D they are not on the board because they didnt' win. they didn't win because no body wants them making decisions so they go to meetings to hear themselves talk and ruin it for the people who go with legit questions. you missed when they asking why the super was missing somuch when his wife was sick.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Luca, him selling his apartment is very much the business of everyone, as it would disqualify him from serving on the Board. Do you wanted to have Board members who don't even own or rent property in this town? Lisa, I'm sure they didn't know that his wife was sick, and if they did, thats very wrong. I regret questioning his absences now that I know that he did he a legitimate reason for not being there. However as long as they didn't know, there was nothing wrong with them questioning his absences.
Erin McCoy August 28, 2012 at 07:04 PM
I am not up on current AP practices ('91 grad from IL), and I do care about Fort Lee School rankings. But I also believe the economic benefits of gaining college credit in high school should be open to the widest number of students. AP scores traditionally were awarded on a 1-5 scale with colleges individually deciding how to treat scores, awarding at least some credit for a 3. Any credit award in basic college classes meant big $ savings, as well as advancing that student to more specific classes. A little known fact was that any student was permitted to sit for an AP exam if they paid the fees, regardless of whether they took the AP class. I was a lazy (but smart) student who did not want a year of homework heavy AP spanish. From 3rd year honors, I requested and (with a bit of help from the teacher) prepared to sit for the AP exam with students from the year ahead. Some of them were annoyed I received a 5, while they did not score so well, likewise, some of my honors classmates did not get a 5 the following year after their AP spanish class. With AP credits from English, History, and Spanish, plus math credit from a placement test, I graduated from Michigan State University in 3 years. My sisters also used AP credits to graduate early. School rankings matter, as does the classroom experience of students, but those who would like to try for college credit should be allowed to sit for the exams (after paying), and merely taking the AP class doesn't guarantee a good score.
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Listing a unit for sale does not disqualify anyone from serving on a position that requires residency - it wasn't sold, with the state of the real estate market it might not have sold. Who was to say the board member didn't purchase another piece of property in town? The question was a waste of time and intended to pry into privacy which from what I have seen thus far seems to be the MO.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Luca, but don't you think we have a right to know if it was sold or not? Or if he bought another property in Fort Lee? Because if he didn't then he shouldn't be serving on the Board. Well he resigned anyway, so it doesn't matter now.
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 07:28 PM
There is a world of difference between a listing and having sold a residence. There also needs to be a bright line as to valid relevant questions and questions whose sole purpose is to harass or invade privacy. Since the gallery cannot seem to differentiate between the two, I would expect the Board or legal counsel to make the call.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 07:41 PM
He listed the property, that means he wants to sell it. Its perfectly reasonable to ask whether he will buy another house or move out of town. I'm not aware if that was the question that was asked, but a question like that is completely sound, especially amid rumors that he owns properties out of state. If he didn't want questions like that to be asked, then he shouldn't have run for the Board.
Zachary David August 28, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Would the changing demographics of Fort Lee explain to any meaningful degree the decline in scores? We have tremendous diversity in the native languages spoken at home of our students. I would think that must negatively impact their ability to perform as well as they might otherwise, especially compared to more homogeneous districts.
Wonk August 28, 2012 at 08:08 PM
The current superintendent was in an administrative position for several years, i do not understand why he is not even somewhat accountable. But more so, Luca and other keep saying these members of the community high jack the meeting and are big mouths, but many times they are asking legitimate questions that either the board refuses to answer or plain does not know the answer. The school's are ranked they have ever been. It is not the people asking questions at board meeting to blame. It is the board for either being obstructionists, or incompetent. I also was not talking about board members selling their apartments. I was saying school rankings are one of, if not the most important factor in property value. This failure of the schools is costing all of us.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I think it actually positively affects our score, if you are talking about the Koreans.
Mike R. August 28, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I wouldn't place too much stock in New Jersey Monthly's ratings as such. I'm not sure why a magazine best known for restaurant reviews is automatically qualified as an expert in education. But having said that, I think this board does have a lot to be held accountable for. Yeats could have been talking about our board when he wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." The board, composed largely of the same members and their crony successors, has a horrible record of hiring or finding quality administrators in the first place, and an awful record of keeping the few good ones they stumble across. And that is bound to have an ill effect on school morale and performance, for both staff and students. It's worth noting that arguably the two best administrators in town (Albro and Kravitz) quit their jobs to move to other districts immediately after the current superintendent was confirmed by the board. I suspect both of them recognized this as a sign of the beginning of a long downhill slide, where no good administrator goes unpunished, nor any poor one unrewarded. That long slide isn't anywhere close to hitting bottom yet, and after it does it will take decades to repair, even if the board began today which, true to form, they show no signs of doing.
Zachary David August 28, 2012 at 08:44 PM
While Koreans make up the majority of foreign language speakers at home, there are many other languages. To some extent it probably depends on the age at which the student came to the US, but those who come at older ages would seem to be at a disadvantage due to a relative lack of English proficiency. It also means that Fort Lee spends more on ESL than more homogeneous towns, perhaps at the expense of other programs that could improve our ranking.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Most of my Asian friends send their kids to supplementary schools and by the time they arrive on the first day of school, many of them know the material for the year forward already.
William Mays August 28, 2012 at 09:00 PM
I agree with you Mike, no good administrator wants to stick around with a Superintendent who randomly fires people. It was those two teachers back then, it could be them next.
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 11:37 PM
The Assistant Superintendent indicated that the change in demographics has significantly changed the results because the students that move back to their country are classified as "drop outs."
Luca D. August 28, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Wonk I did not attribute the apartment issue to you. Your use of the term highjack, although not initially used by me, I find to be accurate and give new meaning to beating a dead horse. Re: Billy Mays & properties for sale / properties out of State. You prove my point. It's no one's business. I can own properties in every State, I can list 100 properties in Fort Lee, it doesn't give anyone the right to ask me if my property is for sale, where I intend to purchase next or whether I wear boxers or briefs. It's about time everyone learn their place.
William Mays August 29, 2012 at 02:02 AM
As I said, it is our business as long as he is on the Board. Do you want to have Board members who don't live in town? I'm not saying that he doesn't live in town now, but he could easily have sold that apartment and then moved out of town and still served on the Board. Thats why those questions are asked.
Edward Ma August 29, 2012 at 03:42 AM
I am a student at Fort Lee High School. I do not agree with Zachary David. The school ranking has very little to do with the Koreans... First of all, majority of the AP students are Asians and Korean. Yes, we do have a lot of "foreign" language students, but it is wrong to point fingers at the Koreans. First of all, majority of the foreign students I see are not all Korean. The Korean students are only a fraction of our foreign student population. Also, there are a huge amount of students that do not care about school at all. These students, in my honest opinion are the reason why our ranking is faltering. For example, during the practice HSPA test and the HSPA test, there were many students who rather fill in random answers and (excuse my language) BS the test. Also, there are other students who prefer to flunk school rather than enbrace it. I am Asian too. I know how hard each Asian parent works and how much they support their children. You should look at your children's report first before you point fingers. If you ask the school to give you class rankings (which I highly doubt they will hand over) the valedictorian and most of the 10th decile and the 20th decile children are all Asian. I have a friend who just came from Korea that was given a recommendation for the National Honors Society. If you are SO worried about the school ranking you should tell the Board to do something with those children who do not care about school, which in my opinion is around 40%.
silver-tongue soldiers August 29, 2012 at 03:59 AM
AP shouldn't be open for everyone. It would no longer be AP if just anyone could take it. The work load is tough, and there are certain prerequisites that need to be met in order for a student to take the class. You need to be recommended. It makes me angry that just about anyone can take an AP class if they want to. I worked hard to get the recommendations needed for AP classes and I would not like to have my education jeopardized by someone who can't handle the workload. These students who fall behind in the class usually receive low AP scores thus bringing the school down. Also, our ranking has slipped because of students who just don't care. I agree with Edward on this one. I see students who would rather just socialize in school instead of learning or listening to the teacher. If the WHOLE student body worked hard and actually cared about school, our ranking wouldn't be so low.
carol simon August 29, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I am so disappointed that Mr. Albro is leaving he was a tremendous asset to the students at the High School. Advanced Placement should be just that! Not everything is "inclusive". Edward Ma, I appreciate and agree with your response about Korean students not being a drag on ranking as the values and traditions of Korean families with respect to education exemplfies excellence. However, to categorize 40% of your classmates as kids who "don't care" is rather judgemental yet poignant in determining a factor in ranking. I believe these students do care deeply. Many students are harder to reach, more difficult to motivate and do not have the success to build upon. These are the students, along with the Ap students, that need to be targeted. English Language Learners are one factor along with other differences and challenges that impede learning that may look like "those children who don't care".

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