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Schools Withhold Data From New Jersey Chief

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A number of New Jersey school superintendents are withholding student test-score data from the state education commissioner, saying they fear the statistics will be used against them.

According to spokesmen for administrators' groups, their members are not fully satisfied that information requested by Commissioner Saul Cooperman's office for use in an annual school-recognition program will not be used by the state to produce controversial new "report cards'' on their districts.

New Jersey is among a growing number of states, including Vermont and Rhode Island, that are launching such efforts. In Illinois, one of the first states to compile and publish performance statistics, the report-card proposal encountered similar resistance.

Gov. Thomas H. Kean called for the report cards in his State of the State Message in January, arguing that they would help in the drive to make schools more accountable to the public.

In the same address, the Governor announced that he had directed Mr. Cooperman "to explore the idea'' of letting parents choose the public schools their children attend. Some superintendents say they believe the report-card program--scheduled to begin in the 1988-89 school year--will be used to promote public support for the "choice'' plan.

Problems With Scores Cited

Last month, New Jersey's education department invited each district to submit its students' scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test as part of the state's three-year-old recognition program, according to Edward Richardson, a spokesman for the commissioner's office.

But several superintendents notified the department that they would not participate in the program, citing concerns about the possible misuse of the data.

"We sent out a flyer notifying principals and superintendents that the commissioner would be asking for SAT scores,'' said Henry Miller, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Superintendents and Principals, "and though we didn't advise them not to give the information, we did advise them to get together and decide whether it's right to give out SAT scores.''

The standardized-test scores, he noted, belong to the individual students who take the test. If a student so requests, the information is not even sent to the school.

"We're concerned about the use of SAT scores to measure'' schools against one another, Mr. Miller added. "These scores are meant to measure an individual's aptitude for admission to college. They are no measure of school effectiveness.''

Members Asked To 'Hold Up'

James Moran, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, reportedly advised his group's members to "hold up'' on releasing scores until the state explains how the information will be used.

Richard A. DiPatri, assistant commissioner of education, said that any information submitted for the recognition program will not be used for any other purpose. State officials will issue a separate request for data to be included in the report cards, he said.

In a meeting last month, he said, Mr. Cooperman attempted to allay the concerns of educators by asking for their counsel on how to develop the report cards.

About 25 representatives from several organizations attended the meeting, which Mr. DiPatri described as "very productive.''

But John Pietrowicz, director of instruction and training for the New Jersey Education Association, said, "I can't think of a single group represented at that meeting that wasn't opposed to the plan as it was presented.''

"All of us believed that [the report-card plan] was pretty much decided before we went into the meeting,'' he added.

Mr. DiPatri said another meeting will be held this week, and a compromise will be discussed. But the planned collection and publication of report-card information will probably not change, he said.

In preparing the report cards, he said, SAT scores "will be considered as one piece of data among other factors,'' such as achievement-test scores and dropout and attendence rates.

"In a series of other factors,'' he said, "it offers a good picture of a school.''

Many districts already collect and release such information, Mr. DiPatri said, "but they make it public with a whisper. Why can't we put it in the limelight?''

"The point is accountability,'' he said. "We have a $7.5-billion education industry here and the Governor has asked for accountability. At this point, he has asked us to collect the data, and we will.''

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