Paterson, New Jersey, the third largest city in the state, has a serious problem. Of the students who took the SATs, only 3.2% received scores that identified them as college-ready, writes Jessica Chasmar of The Washington Times.
The executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, Rosie Grant, stated that the odds are against Paterson students. The Paterson students who are now seniors, according to Grant, have gone through seven superintendents during their time in school, and with each new appointment, the policies and priorities have been reworked by the incumbent administration.
Scores that predict college-readiness have to be at least a 1500 out of 2400 on the SAT. Students start with a free 600 points, but the cumulative score for Paterson students who took the SAT this year was 1120.
There are 50 public schools in Paterson and over 24,000 students in all grades. Of the 594 students who took the test, only 19 scored high enough to be accepted as ready to begin an institution of higher education. Last year that number was 4.3% compared to this year's 3.2%.
Terry Carallo, the district's spokesperson, said there were other factors involved in determining college-readiness. Corey Teague, a board member, believes the administration is "hiding something."
Some education officials have explained that they are not worried and accuse the exam boards for including questions that penalize minorities and female students, reports Wills Robinson, writing for The Daily Mail. Teague told reporters that the district brags about test scores improving, when, in fact, they are not.
"We certainly want our students to be college-readyâ¦ but I'm not too alarmed because these numbers are based on the SATs," said Grant.
Student Jason Williams was one of the few who did make it to college. He says he took the test three times since he was determined to get in. He believes that keeping off the streets helped him concentrate on his studies.
"Just last summer, my friend and teammate, he was shot and killed that summer and that really affected me,' he said.
The Paterson district has since stated that they do not measure student success through the use of the SAT.
Jason's friend was Dereck Fritts, who was shot on National Night Out and was not found until the next day. Williams said that distraction made most of the football players stop concentrating on school, but that is when he put his nose to the grindstone, according to Tamara Laine of My9NJ.
Meanwhile, Paterson is drawing criticism from the teachers union and from some school officials about the 66 employees in the district who are being paid more than $125,000 this school year, says Adam Clark of NJ Advance Media. That is double the number since the 2010-2011 school year.
"The district is overloaded with these administrative positions," Peter Tirri, president of the teachers' union told the Paterson Press. "I don't see how they've done anything so magnificent that's had a direct result in improving student achievement.
State-appointed school superintendent Donnie Evans defended the the spending, saying that competitive salaries are the way to recruit the most qualified applicants.
"There's no way we're going to improve student achievement the way we would want if we don't have highly-qualified principals and highly-qualified district office staff leading the charge," Evans told the Paterson Press.
Since Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010, public school employees' salaries have been a much-discussed topic. An analysis last year found that New Jersey's teachers made from $40,000 to $60,000. At that time, only about 2% made more than $100,000. Christie has put a cap on superintendent pay, which is why some administrators have left the state.