State Department of Education officials are scheduled to release the 2012-13 school performance reports for every public school in New Jersey today.

The reports provide information on how well students in each school are performing based on both state benchmarks and in comparison to similar schools.

There are some changes this year. A new listing will show how many students participate in visual and performing arts classes. Information on college preparation will include the ACT test as well as the SAT, and the data will reflect the percentage of students who attend both two-year and four-year colleges.

Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson, who oversees school performance and accountability, said in a media briefing Monday that they were very excited about including the arts data in the report, as it helps provide a broader view of student engagement.

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said that the reports should be used to spur discussion and analysis of school performance and improvement, and not to label a school.

"We made a major policy decision not to have an A to F ranking," he said, noting that some states give schools a grade. "This is not about rankings. It is important to get the data out there."

Schools may not be ranked, but they are still compared to a "peer group" of similar schools around the state, a comparison that generated controversy last year when first introduced. Some school officials questioned their peer group and were concerned about the context of the information provided. In some cases, high-performing schools did not appear to perform well because they were included in a very high-performing peer group.

The peer groups, which include such factors as the percentage of students receiving free lunch, are modified each year to adjust for changes in enrollment or demographics, Erlichson said..

Cerf said the data also appear to be more accurate this year as district officials realized that incomplete or inaccurate data submitted to the state NJSMART data system will affect their performance report.

State officials said they hoped to have the reports available to the public about noon today. They can be accessed on the state Department of Education website at

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