NJ school closes the within-school achievement gap and exceeds PARCC reading averages

Superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles kicked off the school year with a personal visit to Dr. Paul Rafalides School – PS 33 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her mission? To congratulate the educators and students at PS 33 on their success in closing the within-school achievement gap.1 The announcement followed earlier news that the school’s third- and fourth-grade students had outperformed district, state, and cross-states English language arts (ELA) averages on PARCC2 standardized tests. Students demonstrated growth in math as well, achieving a remarkable 23-point gain on PARCC scores.

Jennifer Miller, PS 33’s second-grade inclusion teacher, believes such success comes when the achievement bar is set high. “We expect our students to achieve. We push them, encourage them, and give them the tools needed to get there. One of the most important tools we use is Renaissance myON® Reader. In fact, the read-aloud feature with follow-along highlighting has directly contributed to the improved performance of ESL3 and other students resistant to reading.”

Principal Frank Piccillo adds, “We know for certain myON, enabling greater accountability and fostering a passion for reading, plays a vital role in our accomplishments. myON also helps strengthen the home-school relationship, which we know is an important contributor to student literacy and continued growth.”

"We know for certain myON, enabling greater accountability and fostering a passion for reading, plays a vital role in our accomplishments.”

Frank Piccillo
Principal – PS 33

The challenge: More accountability and passion

Located in northeastern New Jersey, Jersey City is the state’s second-largest and one of its most diverse districts. Dr. Chantel Perry, supervisor of language arts in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, explains the adoption of myON. “We first implemented myON in 2014 as part of a summer enrichment program. Overwhelmingly positive feedback from our educators led us to expand its use to the fall. Teachers cited the ability to accurately track reading engagement and progress, as well as the size and diversity of the digital library that helps generate enthusiasm for reading. Today, myON is standard across all 31 of our K–8 schools.”

Perry works with district educators and Renaissance to outline a professional development plan that includes a short myON refresher, two training sessions focused on the optimal use of data and reports for instruction, and two professional days dedicated to planning the summer enrichment program. “We have awesome teachers who really buy into the program,” emphasizes Piccillo. “PS 33 teachers don’t just put in a 100 percent effort—they give 150 percent.”

The results: An engaged community and academic excellence

During the regular school year at PS 33, students access myON at the beginning of library media time, reading independently or in groups with the library media specialist. In the classroom, 18 grade-level and three inclusion teachers utilize myON for ELA reading instruction, as reference content for teaching other disciplines, and to support project assignments. Since 2016, myON has been required homework for PS 33 students. Depending upon grade level, students are expected to read up to 20 minutes at home each night.

Strengthened home-school partnership

Piccillo believes fostering a home-school partnership is fundamental to student growth. Each morning and afternoon, he meets parents and students at the door. He explains the importance of reading and assures parents their children will have fun using myON—and will see steady academic progress because of their efforts. “About 90 percent of our parents actively participate in and support the program,” notes Piccillo. “We educate 423 pre-K–4 students, and all of them use myON—even our pre-K students.”

Performance

Miller says that myON provides invaluable data as well. “We use myON placement and benchmark data to monitor progress and guide instruction throughout the year. Without myON, we’d have to manually collect and graph all that information. myON saves our teachers as much as 30 minutes per student per week.”

Brandon Kelly, PS 33 library and media teacher, tracks all student data and manages myON incentives. “myON helps us track performance and hold students accountable. We know they aren’t just browsing; they’re reading and comprehending. Every three weeks, the top reader—the student who has completed the most books—in each grade receives a few small rewards such as baseball cards or pencils. Then, every six weeks, the top class earns a pizza party. The incentives help generate excitement, but it’s the sheer enthusiasm for reading that drives them more.”

Kelly says world language teachers also make use of myON’s Spanish-language literature, and Miller values the breadth of subject areas. “Reading teachers, for example, often scramble to find relevant nonfiction texts or books that specifically appeal to boys or a certain age group. The myON library ensures plenty of interesting books for every audience. Our time- and resource-strapped parents appreciate the wealth of content myON makes available online.”

“Mr. Piccillo and his team’s implementation of myON at PS 33 truly embodies the district’s position for myON success,” adds Perry. “We know that if students take reading seriously, their tests scores will improve. PS 33 is a testament to that. Since the implementation of PARCC, PS 33 third- and fourth-grade students have exceeded district, state, and cross-states literacy scores. Most recently, for third grade, the state average scaled score in ELA was 750, cross-states average was 739, the district average was 749, and PS 33’s average was 771. The fourth-grade state average was 756, cross-states was 744, the district was 749, and the PS 33 average scaled score was 766.”

"myON saves our teachers as much as 30 minutes per student per week.”

Jennifer Miller
Second-Grade Inclusion Teacher – PS 33

...and passion

“myON helps me become a better student and better reader,” says one top reader. “I love myON and will keep reading every day.”

“That young lady with the beautiful smile was not always a top performer,” Piccillo reveals. “She was shy, didn’t participate in class, and didn’t do homework. Yet, when she discovered she loved reading and that attendant feeling of accomplishment, everything changed—and her story is not unique. Since implementing myON, we’ve observed increased class participation schoolwide, been amazed at the depth of academic conversations, listened in on transformative Socratic seminars, watched the achievement gap disappear, and celebrated soaring ELA and math scores.”

Perry concludes, “Of course PARCC results matter. But our teachers are not just teaching to standardized tests. They’re focused on providing the highest-quality instruction, and Mr. Piccillo empowers them with the tools and strategies that work.”

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1 As measured by the difference between students’ scaled scores at the 25th and 75th percentiles
2 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career
3 English as a second language

Superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles kicked off the school year with a personal visit to Dr. Paul Rafalides School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her mission? To congratulate the educators and students at PS 33 on their success in closing the within-school achievement gap.1 The announcement followed earlier news that the school’s third- and fourth-grade students had outperformed district, state, and cross-states English language arts (ELA) averages on PARCC2 standardized tests. Students demonstrated growth in math as well, achieving a remarkable 23-point gain on PARCC scores.

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