Parents petition to keep EHT accelerated math program as is

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EHT's accelerated math program could face changes if board approved EHT's accelerated math program could face changes if board approved

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Concerned parents and students voiced strong opposition during the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, May 27 to an administrative proposal that would reduce the Egg Harbor Township School district’s elementary accelerated math program.

 Parents who have children in the current program have been collecting signatures on a petition asking the board to block the measure since it was introduced at the May 13 board meeting during a Curriculum Committee report.

 According to Assistant Superintendent Pedro Bretones, the administration is trying to respond to changes in education by being proactive, and he explained that the proposal is being considered for two main reasons: the sustainability of the program and the challenge of meeting the more rigorous standards set out by New Jersey’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the new standardized test called, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

 Under the current accelerated math program, advanced third graders are pulled out of class for a “compacted curriculum,” he explained in an interview on Thursday, May 22. The third graders cover all of third grade math and half of fourth grade content. In fourth grade, the students cover the balance of fourth grade material and half of fifth grade, and so on until they reach eighth grade when they can take algebra I or geometry, depending on their levels.

 He said in the program’s four years at the elementary school level, the criterion for acceptance has had to evolve to keep enough students enrolled to justify the separate class.

 “We’ve had to have a sliding scale where we accept x-percent of the students each year,” he said, noting Egg Harbor Township is the only district he knows of that offers accelerated math at the lower grade levels. “There have also been some conversations that when some of these kids start taking geometry, they are not developmentally prepared for it. Some are prepared and some are not.”

 Bretones explained that the new standards called for in Common Core and PARCC testing require students to delve deeper into the concepts. He said the PARCC requires that students take the appropriate grade-level test, which will contain a more intense line of questioning on the content than is provided for in the accelerated curriculum.

 “Now instead of going a mile long and an inch deep, they want us to dig in deeper at the grade level.”

 He said rather than the practice of math, the students are expected to reach a higher level of thinking. “They will need to cover the ‘whys’ in math.”

 During the board meeting, parent Susana Faulhaber read a prepared statement to the board, saying that by pulling the accelerated math classes from the elementary schools the district would harm its brightest students.

 “We are a collective of parents and community members that feel that this possible elimination of the program is without just cause and will only further reduce the educational opportunities for an already underserved group, namely the gifted and talented and other academically inclined students,” she said.

 Faulhaber said the differentiation will not take the place of the current program in which advanced students are pulled out for specialized instruction.

 “We value immensely our great teachers and their hard work in differentiating their instruction to meet the needs of the high-achieving students. But first, you cannot differentiate a math curriculum that is just not advanced enough for these particular students, and second, with increased class size, teachers will spend the bulk of their time with struggling students while the more advanced students take a back seat. The end result is more unfulfilling busy work for them along with undue frustration and boredom. That’s not challenging. That is punishment,” Faulhaber said.

 Parent Jenny Dilks presented the board with the official petition containing 328 signatures and said she was relieved when her son was finally given access to accelerated coursework. She said her son entered the school district knowing basic multiplication and division.

“This is not meant to brag. This is the reality these kids face,” she said. “He was not served when he entered kindergarten. He had to wait until third grade.”

 She said the district proposal to delay the accelerated learning until middle school would not “get the brightest minds where they belong.”

 Parent Shae Dailyda added that the goal of school should be to “spark an interest in our young minds. PARCC lumps everyone together. Lowering the bar is not what education is about. What is the upside of this? The opportunity for advance classes makes the students commit to hard work and gives them a chance to position themselves for success in high school and in college,” she said.

  Mark Deebold, chairman of the board’s Curriculum Committee, said the matter would be discussed at the next meeting, which was initially scheduled for June 9, but is being rescheduled because of conflicts among the members. He said the public would have an opportunity to hear more and comment further on the proposal when the board discusses the matter publicly during its next work session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, in the board room at Alder Avenue Middle School.

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