Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 42
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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Some PHS Parents Still Have Issues Despite Superintendent’s Response

Linda Arntzenius

Following last month’s meeting of the Board of Education, September 25, at which a group of over a dozen parents expressed their displeasure at what they claimed was an unacceptable disparity in grades between two groups of students in a pre-calculus class, the parents received a letter from Superintendent Judith A. Wilson.

Dated October 8, the letter reported that board president Michael Mostoller had formed an ad hoc committee to look into the parents’ complaints. “All parent concerns were considered, marking period and final grades were reviewed and legal terms as well as contract terms were discussed when the ad hoc committee met on October 2,” the letter stated.

Although the letter went so far as to say that the committee and the administration recognized that there were issues of assessment practices to be addressed, some parents have expressed the view that it did not go far enough.

After receiving the letter, Steve Pomerantz called Town Topics to say that many parents were feeling “stonewalled and ignored” about an issue that had gone on for too long. The fact that the ad hoc committee had failed to speak to any of the students involved was a mistake, he said. Had they done so, they would have been better informed. “People are pretty upset.”

The letter told parents that the ad hoc committee had analyzed the information to “determine if there were practices that were arbitrary, capricious or biased,” the standards that would require administrative intervention or changes of a teacher’s grading of student work (other than straightforward mechanical/computational errors that would normally be corrected).

The board also considered the terms of the contract between the Board and faculty which states: “The teacher shall maintain the responsibility to determine student evaluation.”

A random sampling of final grades from other PHS courses and other teachers was also taken into consideration. “It is not uncommon for section to section of classes to have a wide range of GPA for the same course for the year, either with different teachers or the same teacher,” the letter said.

At last month’s board meeting, Mr. Pomerantz, who is an applied mathematician with three children attending schools in the district and another who was a pre-calculus student at PHS last year, had presented his analysis of 2007 course grades based on information provided by the school. In comparing the grading pattern for two groups of students taking pre-calculus with two different teachers, Mr. Pomerantz pointed to a disparity between final grades that, he said, reflected “the subjective will of individual teachers.”

Mr. Pomerantz said that while he is not committed to the issue of changing students’ grades, he is concerned about fair grading and different teacher standards being applied. The problem of non-standardized grading remains, he said. “What is the school doing to address this issue?” he asked.

As a result of the committee’s findings, the letter informed parents, the board and the administration would not be changing students’ grades. Nonetheless, the letter went on to state that the board would be addressing issues of assessment and grading as it moves forward in its work district-wide.

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