EDISON, NJ–At the Edison Board of Education (BOE) public action meeting held in Edison High School on June 15, several parents questioned board members on methods used to determine how elementary students enter Advanced Honors Math classes in 6th grade.
Parents complained that the advanced honors classes in middle school are capped at somewhere in the range of 28 students from each of the two feeder schools, and the number has not gone up in the past two to three years.
Parents said that the high math scores of 5th-graders in both district administered tests and state tests like the NJASK, indicate a need for larger class sizes in Math advanced honors.
The fact that class sizes have remained the same for the past two years or more is a matter of concern because there appears to be an unofficial limit on the number of students admitted to them.
One parent said that the district conducts weekly tests, unit tests, benchmark tests and STAR tests in addition to state tests like PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).
Currently, the BOE requires students to satisfy 3 out of 4 criteria to enter Advanced Honors in middle school math. One of these criteria is that students perform highly on a prognosis test administered by the district.
The BOE does not release scores for these tests unless requested by individual families. Neither does it release a cut-off score for the test. Parents asked the BOE why this was the case; though all criteria for admission into the honors program is clearly listed on the BOE website, the actual selection process, they said, lacks transparency.
This places additional pressure to perform on very young children, who might not have the maturity needed to take the tests seriously and succeed at them in fifth grade.
This process of elimination places young children at a clear disadvantage compared to children who test early into advanced honors classes and reap the benefit of high school advanced math classes.
Emails to Elizabeth Lell, math content supervisor at J.P. Stevens High school and its feeder schools, as well as to Richard O’Malley, district superintendent, went unanswered.
O’Malley told parents that the large number of high performing students is a matter of pride for the district, and is the reason why entry into the honors track is highly competitive.
He also maintained that it is board policy not to release the cut-off for the prognosis test, and that individual scores can be made available to parents who request them. However, the parent who spoke to New Brunswick Today said that the board released scores only after several email requests to do so.
At the meeting in Edison High, one parent grew so impassioned during questioning that the board attorney had to request him to stop interrupting the superintendent.
A few minutes later the lone policeman at the venue strolled to the bottom of the stage and the parent quieted down.
After the meeting, O’Malley told New Brunswick Today that only parents of students who are not admitted into the honors program complain and request reform, suggesting that they accuse the board of lack of transparency because they are disappointed that their children did not succeed.
The parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while many children take failure in stride, others are discouraged when they see that they are denied entry into the honors program despite working hard and scoring well.
“This is not about tiger moms. The kids here work hard and their parents inspire them to work hard. I have considered leaving Edison,” said this parent, “because I would rather see my children look happy, with their confidence boosted than have them feel cheated.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.