October 12, 2022

BOE Candidate Rafalovsky is Concerned About Where School District is Headed

To the Editor:

I’m a parent of two children, ages 8 and 11, and my family has lived in Princeton since 2010. My passion for maintaining top-notch education at PPS and my concerns about where our district is headed are the reasons I chose to run for the School Board. As a former economically disadvantaged public school student, I can say that excellent public education has the potential to be the greatest equalizer. Unfortunately, over the years, the quality of our public school education has fallen. The BOE and PPS leadership must understand why, nationally, Princeton High School dropped from 94th place in 2009 to 490 in 2022 (U.S. News), and why our high school’s math proficiency score is just 51 percent, while Montgomery is 70 and West Windsor is 67. This has been the case since 2015. 

The Board claims that state scores are a poor indicator because of the low student participation rate and also because less academically motivated kids supposedly take the state test. I checked. Last year, the refusal rate was approximately 24 percent. If the Board were right, then both reading and math scores should theoretically be low, but our reading scores are 82 percent, which is within 1 point of neighboring schools.

The Board points to our SAT scores as the true indicator of our high school’s strength. It’s true that our SATs are neck and neck with Montgomery and West Windsor. It’s also true that only 50-62 percent of students have taken the SATs recently, and the test takers are typically students who are more academically motivated. So, one can similarly argue that the SATs are not holistically representative of academic performance either. If the Board is right in that fewer academically motivated kids take the state exam, then it means they and PPS leadership have known since 2015 about many kids being just 51 percent proficient in math, and they’ve not done a whole lot to improve it. Or maybe they’ve taken actions, but those initiatives were unsuccessful. This is why it’s so important to measure the success of initiatives. 

The point is, the Board cannot have it both ways. Standardized tests either are indicative or they aren’t. Testing is far from perfect, but I believe that both tests are indicative. We should also ask ourselves: since state standardized testing is optional and SATs and ACTs are optional, what’s our plan to measure academic achievement? I don’t believe in not measuring, and we need to be able to compare schools. While rankings are not the “final grade,” they are indicative of overall perceived quality. Homebuyers rely on school ranking to make purchase decisions, and our property values are tied to public school performance.

The BOE represents the interests of the community, the taxpayers, and makes sure that the schools are well run. Our BOE needs to address this. If elected, I would advocate the BOE to move toward a more goal-oriented relationship with the school administration; make data-driven, evidence-based decisions; and set measurable goals to track performance of major strategic initiatives.

Rita Rafalovsky
Library Place