Many middle class parents in New Jersey believe their local schools are performing well, and education quality is only a problem in urban areas such as Newark, but they're probably wrong.

That's the gist of "Not As Good as You Think: Why Middle-Class Parents in New Jersey Should Be Concerned About Their Local Public Schools," a product of the Pacific Research Institute, which finds proficiency levels are also poor at schools in the Garden State where one-third or less of the students are considered low income.

New Jersey was the fifth of five states analyzed by PRI for academic performance at middle class schools. The report analyzed 1,170 public schools in New Jersey with predominantly non-low-income student populations.

"You can live in a nice, leafy middle class suburb - there may be underperformance in your local neighborhood school, and unfortunately, a lot of parents may not be aware of that," Lance Izumi, study author, told New Jersey 101.5.

Out of 114 high schools where at least 80 percent of seniors took the SAT in 2014, nearly 30 percent saw at least half of their SAT-takers fail to hit the college readiness benchmark score of 1550, according to the report.

At Waldwick High School in Bergen County, for example, 56 percent of SAT-takers failed to obtain a score of at least 1550, although just 1 percent of the school's students were classified as economically-disadvantaged.

The report pointed to several other predominantly middle class high schools with a college readiness problem:

  • Emerson High School, Bergen County
  • Hasbrouck Heights High School, Bergen County
  • Cedar Grove High School, Essex County
  • Shore Regional High School, Monmouth County
  • Jefferson Township High School, Morris County
  • Pompton Lakes High School, Passaic County
  • Arthur L. Johnson High School, Union County
  • Jonathan Dayton High School, Union County

"These results should cause middle class New Jersey parents to rethink their views on the quality of their neighborhood public schools, and, consequently, to open their minds to other education options, choices and policy changes that would allow their children to escape underperforming schools and attend better-performing alternatives," the report read.

Low-proficiency results were uncovered at the elementary and middle school levels as well.

Using data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation's report card, PRI found:

  • On the 2015 NAEP fourth-grade reading test, 43 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level.
  • On the NAEP fourth-grade math test, 38 percent of the non-low-income New Jersey students failed to score at the proficient level.
  • On  the 2015 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 49 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level.
  • On the NAEP eighth-grade math exam, 42 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level.

"It's not just inner-cities - Camden or Newark and places like that - that may have educational quality problems," Izumi said.

The New Jersey Department of Education said it typically does not publicly evaluate or criticize reports such as these. Education groups such as the New Jersey Schools Boards Association and the New Jersey Association of School Administrators were not available for comment Monday due to the holiday.

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