As we began trying to understand the data we had concerns about our student information system. The Board of Education hired a former Commissioner of Education to review all high school systems during the summer of 2012. The discoveries made in that process were startling. The district had been recording student withdraws incorrectly. Many students who had previously been thought to be transfers were actually dropouts. Our computer system had been erroneously rounding failing grades up to Ds, allowing students with averages below 60% to pass their courses. Many students had excessive absences and did not meet the state requirement of 90% attendance. Perhaps the worst issue was summer school. Our high school students, through summer 2011, were allowed to makeup failed academic courses by doing custodial work. It was estimated that about 90 students who graduated in 2012 did not really meet requirements of passing grades and attendance.
Thankfully our Board of Education directed our administration to fix all of these issues immediately. The class of 2013 was the first class that had to come to school 90% of the time, get 60% or above to pass their courses, and was not permitted to make up credits through custodial work. This was occurring at the same time the state was tightening up its reporting mechanisms and standardizing how graduation rates are calculated. This is the very first time in our school district's history that we have an accurate accounting of the percentage of students who really complete high school on time. I don't think anyone anticipated the news to be so bad. This is a district that has always had a great deal of pride. The community understood there were educational issues, but thought they were doing pretty well considering the level of poverty and number of students learning English as a second language.
Hopefully this will be a wake-up call once and for all for Perth Amboy. Like so many high poverty communities, this city has been focusing on petty politics and using our school system as a jobs program. It is time that our our students, parents, teachers, school and community leaders stand up for children and demand that the Board of Education begin to make decisions that truly support educational progress.