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New Jersey fourth graders score near top in nation

HIGHLANDS, N.J. — Fourth grade students' reading and math test scores in New Jersey top nearly every other state in the nation, according to data released in “the nation’s report card” which is a compilation of state performance put out annually by the federal department of education.

New Jersey scored second in math and reading. New York ranked 10th in reading and fell below the national average in math, coming in at 15th place.

A few states tied with New Jersey and New York in their respective slots. Massachusetts was the only state to top New Jersey in both categories.

The New Jersey Department of Education recognized seven “lighthouse districts” which were handpicked for lighting the way toward student success.

Highlands School District in Highlands, New Jersey is one of the seven districts where students test scores are raising eyebrows. Kids are making such big strides, that the district has been asked to show other schools how to mimic their achievement.

"What it means is that we’re really, our school leadership team — from our principal down to our superintendent and with the support of our board — are able to go out and share what we’ve done innovatively to help promote student achievement,” said Daniel Layton, the curriculum director at Highlands District.

What is working for them is keeping the same class of kids with the same two teachers for two years. The pair of teachers each specialize in different subjects.

"They’re not with the same teacher the whole day,” said Layton. "So they’ll have one teacher for language arts and social studies and another teacher for math and science."

They also teach kids using the technology that students will be tested on — namely computers. And they place students into strategic groups — based on testing and other data — they methodically hand pick kids to work together to learn a specific concept and then dissolve the group only to reform a different arrangement for a different type of problem or task.

Plus, they don’t just ask kids: what is the answer? But also, how did you arrive there? Students inside a 4th grade class at Highlands Elementary answered every question by beginning aloud: “I know this because…"

New Jersey 8th graders also outperformed most of their peers on the national stage.

They scored second in reading and 4th in math.

But education advocates say there is still more work to do. Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN said the data showed a persistent performance gap between urban and suburban, high to low income kids and/or white compared to hispanic or black students.

Morgan said educators need to stay focused on closing that gap, so all students can keep moving forward.