Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 47
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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PRS Describes Strides in Closing Minority Students’ Achievement Gap

Ellen Gilbert

Data reflecting recent strides in closing the achievement gap among minority students in the Princeton Regional School District were the focus of a Monday evening Minority Education Committee meeting. Superintendent Judy Wilson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Bonnie Lehet, and Director of Student Services Agnes Golding gave a detailed presentation that showed, in general, rises in standardized test scores among minority students in grades Pre-K through 12 over the last 18 months.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way,” said Ms. Wilson, emphasizing that these results did not have to do with “a keynote in September,” but rather with “daily work” involving many people at every grade level. Changes in “beliefs, policies and practices” in every school in the district were implemented, she noted, under the guidance of New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education (Metro Center), a comprehensive center that helps schools and institutions provide better educational equity.

Minority Education Committee questions about the achievement gap, submitted to the district last summer, were the impetus for Monday’s meeting. In their presentations speakers tried to respond the committee’s questions about early warning systems for every child, existing efforts to ensure that no child fails, tracking of students who receive grades of D or F, and tracking of high achieving minority students.

An information packet distributed to everyone who attended the meeting, including copies of the numerous charts presented, was subtitled “Moving from disconnected pockets of work and professional learning to Pre-K through 12 continuous focus on minority achievement.” Ms. Lehet spoke to the over-representation of minority children in special education classes, or “disproportionality.” Noting that there was not much observable change in these numbers over the last three years, she said that it was difficult to “declassify” children once they were classified, so results might not be evident for a while. Helping struggling students who are not yet classified is, she said, the district’s “first line of work.” Classifications as of October 2008 included 33 percent of the district’s 263 black students; 27 percent of its 335 Hispanic students; five percent of the 506 Asian students enrolled; and 13 percent of the 2,256 white students.

The success of the district’s current full-day pre-school program appears to offer promise in its efforts to lower classification rates, since children can be classified as young as three years of age. While previous half-day efforts to offer focused academic instruction to preschoolers did not attract many students, the switch to a whole day made a remarkable difference in filling these classes, according to Ms. Wilson. Until public policies affecting family services catch up, however, there will always be students who arrive at school already disadvantaged, she noted.

One apparent consequence of the district’s efforts to engage poorly performing students is a lowered rate of vandalism, including fewer reports of harassment, bullying, and carrying weapons. “When children recognize that people care about them where they go to school, they’re less likely to do damage,” said Ms. Wilson.


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