Almost 4 of every 10 elementary school students in New Jersey are not reading at the level they should be, according to the results of 2011 state tests released by the New Jersey Department of Education Wednesday.
Students do better in math, with almost 8 out of 10 students in grades three though six passing the test. Fourth graders also perform well in science, with a 90 percent passing rate on the state test.
The data show that even when scores are rising, the so-called achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their non-disadvantaged counterparts remains wide, with students from low-income families at least twice as likely to fail.
The problem is not limited to urban districts. About half of low-income students in the state live in more suburban districts and even in the wealthiest districts still fail at two to three times the rate of non-disadvantaged students.
"There is no debate that there is a direct correlation between socio-economics and academic performance," said Dennis Anderson, school superintendent in both the Wildwood and Wildwood Crest districts. Amderson said the population in Wildwood Crest is more stable and test results are much better.
The language arts performance gap is influenced by students whose first language is not English. Those students make up about three percent of all students tested, but are more likely to live in lower-income school districts.
"A lot of students come in not speaking English and they have a lot of ground to make up," Anderson said.
The state has also raised the minimum passing score on some tests, so results do not necessarily correlate across the grades. Student performance was better in eighth grade with 82 percent of students passing the language arts test and 71 percent passing math. In high school 90 percent of high school juniors passed the High School Proficiency Assessment in language arts, and 75 percent passed math. But by then, struggling students may have already dropped out of school.
Locally there are some bright spots.
Chelsea Heights School in Atlantic City continued its streak of high performance, with 100 percent of fourth graders passing both the math and science tests. Other grades also performed well.
At the Belhaven School in Linwood 100 percent of the eighth graders passed the language arts test and in Port Republic every eighth grader passed the science test.
Atlantic City assistant superintendent Donna Haye said Chelsea Heights has a solid core of teachers and families and once students start succeeding they can carry that success through the grades, a goal they have for every school. But, she said, the environment surrounding students can affect their education.