My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Education Matters: Schools taking measures to close achievement gap

This is just a quick post to attach the link to my most recent Education Matters column from the Amherst Bulletin (

I'll be doing a post this weekend summarizing the last Amherst SC Meeting (Tuesday, September 28th), so look out for that if you are interested (we discussed the MCAS results for all three schools and voted to form a task force to examine moving the 6th grade to the middle school).

Also, the next Regional SC meeting will be this Tuesday, October 12th, and will start at 6 pm. The first 2 hours will be with the superintendent search firm we've hired -- this is open to the public so feel free to come (or watch on TV).


Michael Jacques said...

I am really hopeful that Dr. Chen's report will be a spring board for the district to tackle some of the issues around Math. This may not only improve the MCAS results but parents experiences with math. I hope Dr. Chen's report can be as helpful to the district as the Beers' report was to Mike Hayes.

I would like to know more about what Mike Morris had done at Crocker Farm to become so successful. If any of the Crocker parents who read this want to comment that would be great.

Concerned Amherst Parent said...

Some very important data that is missing: what is the socio-economic status of those who are achieving well and those who are not?

Since the schools in our country are funded through property taxes, it stands to reason that poor people will have underfunded schools, and that they will not perform as well on standardized tests. Granted these are children going to the Amherst schools, so one might assume that everyone has the same education. But low income people tend to be more transient, don’t they, due to less economic stability. How long have the underachievers been living in this school district? What kind of community did their parents grow up in, which would have substantial influence on their perceptions of education and on the education they received?

Another important piece that is missing: What is the educational background of the families of high achievers?

Does family life influence a child's education?

Would you please report the socio-economic data on the various groups you have named. For example, what percentage of white students come from families in a middle to high income bracket? What percentage of students of color are in that bracket?

Same goes for low income students. What percentage of white students are in the low income and what percentage of students of color are low income.

I think the correlation has more to do with socio-economic status than with color.

I’m really surprised you didn’t go this extra step with the data. It seems like a no brainer to me to pursue the low and high income strands. You even pointed out that “82 percent of non-low income students, were rated as proficient on the math MCAS.” What percentage of that 82% are students of color? What precentage white? What percentatge “52 percent of African American, Hispanic and low income students” who achieve proficient status were low income?

Please try to give a more complete picture when presenting the community with data.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Mike - I share your interest in Dr. Chen's report. My understanding (from the last SC meeting) is that Mike Morris is dividing kids in flexible groupings (3) in the upper grades (maybe 5th and 6th?), and having math taught in these distinct groups. That seems to have paid off in terms of MCAS scores, and I think is a creative way of challenging all kids at an appropriate level.

Concerned Amherst Parent - as I note in my piece, income is clearly a factor (like race) that is associated with MCAS scores, and I certainly agree that these categories are often correlated. Unfortunately, I don't know of a way to get the data you are interested in -- the state simply reports data by distinct subgroups, and not at the level you propose (e.g., what % of low income kids are African American) and doesn't provide ANY data on parental education. So, that is why my piece presented data separately for both students of color and low income students -- that was the best I could do, given what is available. I still believe the data presented here is useful, although if the districts were willing to engage in this type of analysis, it could certainly be done (since we obviously do have more precise information on our students). I'd suggest you write an email to the superintendent and School Committee and request precisely this type of analysis -- which would indeed be very informative (and I'd be happy to run these analyses, if it was an issue of devoting staff time). Thanks for the good suggestion!

Anonymous said...

I noticed there is no mention of SPED students performance.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 11:52 - good point! The opeds have very strict word limits, so I'm always choosing what to include and what not to include. But I believe special education in Amherst is a very important topic, and one of concern to many parents, and will certainly consider addressing this topic in a future piece. Thanks for the good suggestion.

Anonymous said...

In 1986, California passed a law that had the state collect all property taxes, and redistribute them giving every single school $4800 per student. From there, they had a formula that added more money on top of that, depending on how poorly the school and students were performing. By 2000, nothing had changed academically. The high performing schools, only getting $4800 per student, were still producing high achieving students. The low achieving schools, getting sometimes close to $15,000 per student, were still producing underperforming students. There's more to it than money.

Abbie said...

While looking on the ARPS site for when the math review is to be finished, I found the following: ' On Thursday, September 23, members of the K-16 Math Council will meet from 3:30-5:00 p.m. to put the finishing touches on an online survey to be made available to parents and families through Survey Monkey.' (

Does anyone know anything about this? I am pretty sure our family wasn't invited. I recall an invite to a survey from the Superintendent on her priorities (I think that was the subject?), which was briefly available (survey closed when I went to take it).

Caren Rotello said...

Abbie -- There is a link to the math survey on the Crocker Farm PGO blog today. I completed the survey this afternoon. It appears relevant to parents with children in all grades, but it also appears biased (i.e., sometimes making the assumption that math is hard).

Anonymous said...

That new district-wide math survey asks lots of questions about the parent's experiences with math. Why is this? I am concerned about my child's experiences with math NOW, not mine from 35 years ago. While they may be different, why ask about it...unless that is the point of the survey. As Caren Rotello says in 7:32, the survey itself seems like it is trying to educate the survey-taker about what is important in math today. This is not a survey then about how our children's own math experiences are now.

Why doesn't the district survey current students and recent graduates about their expereinces in K-12 math in Amherst. I am sure they have a lot to say. Out of the mouths of babes....