letter to the editor

Five Town CSD’s dismal results from benchmark testing

Mon, 05/08/2023 - 2:00pm

I write this letter to sound a warning about our school system. From 2020-2022 the percent of 11th graders meeting the English and Writing benchmark on the PSAT declined from 81% to 75%. Even worse, the percent of our students meeting the Math Benchmark in 2022 was 42%. Yes, over half of our students failed to meet the benchmark, and it has been that way since at least 2020.

Like most of you, today I received the Annual Report of the Five Town CSD. Beautiful, glossy pictures that would do a Fortune 500 corporation proud. All of my information comes from that report.  I have attended two or three Zoom meetings where the public can question the budget, and I can attest that the leadership believes it has done an outstanding job during the Covid virus, far better than others.

We are not an inner city with widespread poverty. Taxpayers are paying $16,220-$21,653 per pupil per year.

For each class of 25, we are spending roughly half a million dollars each year, and we know that money is not all going to the teachers.

Are we spending that money wisely?

Some of it sounds like an expensive summer camp. We have a semester abroad program, a semester away program, cultural exchange trips, alternative education programs, service-learning trips, independent study, hatchery innovation exposure and dual and concurrent enrollment. And we paid a bonus to our school leader.

With widespread grade inflation, standardized testing and benchmarking allow objective assessment of how we are educating our young. English, writing and math are important platforms for advancing in many career choices. If all our students aren’t meeting the benchmarks, have we fulfilled our responsibilities to equip them to succeed in life?

Are the students being pushed away from mastering English, writing and math in a well-intentioned effort to broaden them?

According to the Superintendent’s letter in the Annual Report,  “We want students to take a dual enrollment course, join a cultural trip, pursue an independent study, go away for a semester, do an internship seek an endorsement or certificate, learn a skill at MSCT, etc”.

Nice, but AFTER they have mastered the basic core competencies. Should students be doing these wonderfully sounding activities when only 42% of our 11th graders met the Math benchmark(page 9 of Annual Report)? 

Results for 11th graders in 2020 reflect their education before Covid. Despite self-aggrandizement, since Covid, our test results have largely worsened. Our schools should be focused on core skills such as English, writing and especially math. Less glossy brochures, less semesters abroad, less self-praise, more back to basics, more objective testing and more hard work. 

English grammar may not be as much fun as interactions with the Hatchery Innovation Center, but I suspect it is generally the more valuable skill for long-term success. Whatever we are doing is not working. Refocus on formal education, and then consider enrichment.  

Jonathan J. Beitler lives in Camden