If You’re A Rich White Kid in NJ, Don’t Sweat Over Midterm Exams

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There’s an emerging trend among New Jersey high schools: administrators are either canceling midterm exams or diluting their consequences in order to assuage student stress. One wrinkle: apparently this new policy is largely restricted to high schools that disproportionately enroll wealthy white and Asian students. I guess low-income students of color are not feeling the effects of what, for instance, Millburn Superintendent Christine Burton and Millburn High School Principal William Miron call “an unprecedented time in history” and the “pandemic environment of 2022.

That’s according to today’s article in nj.com that lists schools that have “either canceled midterms or scaled back the difficulty of exams this year.” 

‘Superintendent Christine) Burton and I have taken into consideration many points of view from students, parents, administrators, department chairs, and teachers. We also recognize that we are in an unprecedented time in history, and it is necessary to adapt the midterms to the pandemic environment of winter 2022,’ Millburn High School Principal William Miron said in a letter to students, parents and faculty.

Which students are granted this extra consideration? Let’s take a look. Millburn High School students are almost entirely white and Asian. Two percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. The median household income is $225,227 and the median home value is $1.13 million. Oy, the stress!

Here’s another on the list: Westfield Senior High School, where students are 91% white and Asian; only 2% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The median household income in this Union County suburb is $171K and the median home value is $743K. Students there circulated a petition (currently at 1,600 signatures) which asks administrators to copy Millburn so that students can “gain an advantage,” presumably when applying to college:

Several other towns have canceled midterms and while it might be too late to cancel our midterms, we can follow Milburn High School’s model which only counts midterms if they help your grade. WHS students face so much stress when it comes to midterms and colleges view Seniors’ first semester grades which are greatly affected by midterms. If other towns are gaining an advantage, WHS should follow suit. 

Administrators complied. 

The other high schools cited as either canceling midterms, shortening them, or having them not count unless they raise course grades include Red Bank Regional, Cranford, and Summit. Red Bank is an exception: 30% of students there qualify for free or reduced lunch and 35% are Hispanic. Cranford? Very rich and very white. Summit? Slightly less rich and slightly less white or Asian.

One school not mentioned is Montclair High, where last week’s update includes this:

After careful consideration and discussion, the decision has been made to cancel midterm exams originally scheduled for late January. This decision was made in the best interest of our students, taking into account the amount of instructional time that would be lost, as well as acknowledging the stress and anxiety of these challenging times. The class grading profiles in Genesis will be updated to reflect this change and this will not impact students’ grades.

(In Montclair, the median household income is $127K and the median home value is $861K.)

One wonders about considerations for students redlined into less tony towns, as well as the calculations made in implementing these policies. While low-income students of color have suffered the most learning loss, isn’t it important for all NJ school districts to assess student proficiency? Isn’t that a key part of the $2.8 billion NJ K-12 schools received from the Biden Administration, which requires districts to ensure that parents understand test results? How does that happen if the tests don’t exist or are dumbed-down? How do schools remain accountable to families, especially in a state where the State Department of Education just decided that a high school diploma signifies not college and career-readiness but “high-school graduation readiness“?

I’ll keep pounding the drum of the Murphy Administration’s statewide expansion of the 64 Floor spectacle–including the fact that it has failed to release the results of the StartStrong assessments that were administered statewide in September. (Word is that outcomes were “a disaster.”)  But I’ll stop beating up these not-so-lucky students who get a pass on accountability because their parents can afford expensive homes that come bundled with marble countertops and high-quality schools.

Just chalk it up to another perk for the entitled within NJ’s inequitable state school system.

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