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Advocacy & Action in Progress

Fixing Honors & HAP/Gifted & Talented (G&T)

HAP AND HONORS CRITERIA ARE BROKEN! There are multiple issues with our G&T/HAP

  1. Honors Test is unfair in terms of abilities and economically discriminatory:
    1. Uses questions for Math in subject matter that children have not been taught, thus catering to a gifted child but not to a “talented” child or to a top performing student whose work earned “As”
    2. Does not provide a test study guide as kids are given for all other tests
    3. There is also an economic unfairness because parents who realize how to beat the system and who can afford to do so, will pay tutors to teach ahead in order to prep for the terrible tests
  2. As a result of this inappropriate fusion of Honors and G&T
    1. There is too much emphasis placed on testing into Honors and too much devaluation of Grades. Under NJDOE guidelines and best practices nationally, we are supposed to have a clearly defined G&T curricula and programs from K-12, yet we only had it from grades 3-8 and 7th and 8th grade programs have deteriorated to the point where kids are not being taught basic skills while exploring more conceptual subject matter
  3. The Superintendent trying to combine HAP and Honors in middle school, which defies the best practices of high performing schools in the state and nationally.
    1. Must have a non-G&T Honors that is open to the top 10% to 20%.
    2. Should have a separate Honors for G&T and regular Honors, but one should never combine the 2 cohorts, to the exclusion of regular honors, because it underserves or bars qualified Honors Students or underserves G&T students whose needs are not fully met
  4. HAP/G&T additional issues:
    1. HAP has never adequately addressed math, science, art or music. It was a poor model, created as a higher reading course and ill-conceived. We need to adopt a different model
    2. HAP entry criteria are also inappropriate:
      1. InView is not considered the best test for high aptitude anymore CogAT and others serve better.
      2. Additionally, there is a difference between "Gifted" and "Talented"; our approach frequently screens out the talented. There are some high achieving kids who may fall into the "talented area but not the gifted. For example, a gift child may know or understand things intuitively a quantum leap above others, and not be able to explain how or why. A Talented Child may have a greater facility for the subject matter and process he subject matter quickly but require stepwise processes
      3. Over the years, politics, racial bias, especially unconscious bias against Black males have been issues raised many times in HAP selection. There is a fallacy perpetuated that kids could not study for the logic sections of the InView. I discovered late that CriticalThinking.com has extensive workbooks and curricula designed specifically for that purpose.
    3. Reevaluate Kids and Accept Applications Annually: Kids have different peaks and valleys when they may demonstrate higher ability or decline in ability and  some performance may be tied to emotional development
  5. Solutions:
    1. Honors
      1. “A” students are admitted without and exam, as is done with most schools
      2. “B” students already in Honors get to stay without a test
      3. The BOE must codify an Honors Policy!
    2. G&T/HAP:
      1. Adopt a new model K-12
      2. Create HAP Honors Classes 6-8
      3. Revised HAP in Policy

We are supposed to challenge kids and not frustrate them. The current Middle School Honors system demoralizes them. The Board has a duty to ensure that Honors and G&T policies are abiding by state guidelines, fair and demonstrating best practices. The Board also has an obligation to advocate for children and parents subjected to these inequities.

Homework Volume & Approach:

There are multiple issues with the implementation of Homework.

  1. We need a clear curricular philosophy and practice defining the role and objectives of homework.
    1. What is the purpose: review, retention, new learning, reinforcement, conceptual challenges, teamwork projects, etc?
    2. What is our pedagogical approach? Whether a traditional view or a "flipped school" approach which parallels college (Read ahead, then hear the lecture and do the work in class…then study what you have done)
    3. There must be a desired benefit or outcome.
    4. We need consistent curricula guidelines aligned with grade, age, and subject matter because for WOHS college prep, the amount of homework may need to differ
      1. We confuse homework rigor and intellectual challenge with volume.
      2. There is a place for periodic high volume so that students learn to manage volume for college; yet, this does not need to happen nightly.
      3. There are many classes and teacher who don’t give enough while many others give too much 3.
  2. Project work is assigned without teaching project management techniques
  3. We have a culture that abhors memorization and is in denial about the fact that memory and memory development correlate with success (especially in medical school, etc.) AND that it should not be an either/or but rather a both/AND, whereby, kids need motivational experiential, conceptual work and we can still teach them how to learn through various means.
    1. I have been teaching my kids memorization techniques that also involve conceptual approaches: using multiple senses to encode information to association, to mnemonic techniques (rhyme, rap, poems) to shortcut reminders (example: SOH CAH TOA in trig)
  4. Note taking/Cornell Method as part of homework link to classwork is lost, and outlining to organize and memorize data. If we teach how master information, study will be easier.
    1. We make our kids work harder by not teaching Cornell note taking consistently or holding them accountable for using it
    2. We stopped mid-terms finals which helps college prep and presents another type of planning and prep in the homework challenge.
  5. Homework for Mastery of Information or Skills: Homework is supposed to be practice in process or application of concepts and information, like a basketball player taking 1,000, 3-point shots until it becomes reflex or a football team practicing a complex end-around or onside kick until execution is seamless…practice, not torture.
  6. Homework Holiday: Princeton school district will institute homework holidays soon. So, there will be intense periods of homework and periods of no homework.

Strategic Focus to Drive Student Achievement #1 Business Performance Measure


  • Curriculum (C&I)
  • Benchmark
  • Assessments
  • Graduation Rates
  • Standardized Test Scores
  • Ap Participation
  • K-8 Stem, Engineering & Code
  • Reading Levels/Writing
  • Middle School & Freshman Math
  • Program Funding


  • Outcomes: Colle Acceptance, Awards, Programs, Merit Scholarships
  • College Plans, Visits, Skills
  • Internships/Experiences
  • Relationships: College, Alumni, Employer
  • Curricula Aligned With Career Objectives
  • Partnerships & Funding


  • Safety & Health
  • Achieve Class Size <18
  • Address Facilities Capacity/Overcrowding, New Housing Developments
  • Tech Resources & Stem Learning Labs
  • Teachers Tech Integration
  • Fosters Creativity
  • Funding & Partnerships


  • Engage teachers, Parents & Students for Input
  • Data Quality Assurance Management
  • Tactics: Climate Surveys & Forums 1 to 2x Per year


Quantitative Data Inputs

  • Objective 3rd Party Data
    • NJDOE Report Cards
    • U.S. News or Newsweek High School Ratings and Rankings
    • College Boards PSAT, SAT Scores plus ACT Rankings
  • Internal Tracking of Outcomes and Factors Impacting Performance:
    • Benchmark Assessments
    • 66% 4-Year College Acceptance Rate – 44% Non-Acceptance to 4YC (Top 20 College Acceptance AND Attendance)
    • Factor: 44% Free and Reduced Lunch (What % comprises 4YCA?)
    • Performance of Students in the Middle/the majority
    • Unsatisfied Clients: % of Students that exit annually by grade 5th/6th/8th
    • <90% Graduation Rate
    • % Participation in AP exams and % scoring 4 or 5
    • Ivy, top 20 and top 50 college acceptance and attendance
    • AP participation and scores of 4 or 5
  • Primary Research Survey

Qualitative Data Points/Inputs

  • Strategic Planning Groups
  • Strat “Survey”: Two Open Ended Questions –
  • Narratives (<300 respondents)
    PTA and COPTA?
  • Parent Feedback @ BOE Meetings
  • Curriculum Committees
Student With Computer

Student Academic Performance Goal Statement

Maximize Student Performance based on internal and marketplace/3rd-party, metrics (KPIs/Key Performance Indicators), AND by doing so, enhance competitive college and career opportunities for our students and WOPS rankings and ratings, earning school report cards that place our schools on par with the Top 100 rated schools by 2021. KPI metrics categories to include standardized test participation and scores, reading levels, and competitive program curricula (Example: Code, Engineering, website development, publishing or producing original work)

Student Performance Goal Objectives 1

  1. Increase 4-Year Graduation Rates from 86% to 91% by 2021
  2. Leverage Kelly School as launching pad along with new, strategic alliances (beyond NASA and MSU) to make WOPS a state leader in STEM including Code for all K-12 and Engineering K-8
  3. Raise performance of kids in the middle, with a focus on economically disadvantaged (44% Free-and-Reduced Lunch) in order to raise reading levels, writing proficiency and standardized test scores
    • Establish metrics and tracking with current scores as baseline and set annual goals and 2021 goal
  4. Make Washington and Hazel Elementary Schools STEAM & CODE programs
  5. Raise performance of ESL students by 25% by providing year-round ESL supported by digital software or online language labs
  6. PARCC achieve 80% passing rate by 2021
  7. Develop in-person tutoring program and customized online Math tutorials addressing support needs of Middle School and 9th grade Math students
  8. Follow through on ENRICHMENT curricula and programs for ALL to ensure that we challenge, motivate and stimulate children at the highest they can achieve
  9. Track performance by cohort and provide supports and interventions to uplift “children in the middle,” and economically challenged children on Free-and-Reduced Lunch
  10. Continued expansion of STEAM curriculum K-12 that provides student-centered active learning opportunities to prepare students for 21st century learning.
  11. Encourage an individualized approach to student development including the arts, athletics, community service, and global citizenship.
  12. Develop an instructional focus for students to read at or above grade level to include appropriate and rigorous tasks, interventions, and small group instructional models. Set a metrics Goal for average

Goal Statement # 2: Student College and Career Goal Statement

Maximize Student College and Career Readiness based on internal and marketplace/3rd party, metrics (KPIs) AND by doing so, enhance competitive college and career opportunities for our students and WOHS rankings to achieve Top 100 Status by 2021. KPI metrics categories to include standardized test participation and scores, K-8 early college/career planning goals, college acceptance rates, top 20 college attendance rates, and competitive program curricula (Examples: Publishing, internships, elite scholar programs, number earning college credits in high school, software and systems certifications, etc.)

Students Having Fun Learning

College & Career Objectives

  1. Increase our 4-Year College Attendance Rate from 60.9% to 85% by 2021 (3 percentage point per year) and Total College Attendance Rate from 77.5% to 90% (2.5% points per year). 16.2% of our students are not doing any Post-Secondary education or training.
  2. Improve our below NJ State Average PSAT, SAT and ACT scores by 10% in 2017 and by a total of 25% by 2017 (Note: good prep courses improve student scores by 10-15% in the first year)
    1. ACT currently 18 to 23 out of 36 points for ELA, Reading, Math and Science. 22 composite score. 25% improvement in 5 years is 5.5 points = 27.5 score/36
    2. PSAT only 31% meet both Math and English Benchmarks (Score 954/1520 low) with most work needed in Math (32% Benchmarks) We produce only 7 National Merit Scholarship finalist annually
    3. While scores have improved and our top 3-5% tend to have great scores, our Top 10% and Top 20% SAT Scores should be 10% to 15% higher, competitively
  3. Build on AP success increasing participants from approximately 35% to 40%, and increasing the score of 4 to 5 by 20% from 312 to 374 by 2021
  4. Integrate early college and career exploration planning assignments into K-8, including Middle School attendance at and deliverables from college fairs
  5. Leverage Alumni, corporate partnerships (UTC loves class visits and gives helicopter rides) and non-profit career development partnerships (INROADS, SEO, SHPE, NSBE, and others) for mentorship and career field trips
  6. Integrate college readiness and 21st Century leadership skills into curricula to include project management, Cornell Notetaking methods, public speaking and debate and tech-driven presentation and communications tools (Example: Webpage templates instead of movie posters)
  7. Create a student-centered school counseling environment with clear communication about courses and college and career planning, financial aid and merit scholarship profiles with planning integrated into the curriculum in partnership with the Faculty and Administration, and utilizing best practices in college and career planning, including utilization of Alumni relationships to enhance college acceptance outcomes and internships opportunities.
  8. For IH at WOHS, develop comprehensive career planning options complete with conversion rates, salaries, and companion STEM skills needed (Statistics, etc.)
  9. Leverage Alumni, corporate partnerships and non-profits for internships, guided research and publishing opportunities (I published with help of Heart Association program, Howard U. Med School’s School of Pharmacology and my high school’s guided research journal)
  10. Reevaluate Freshman Seminar Curricula and incorporate elements in Middle School whole augmenting to include project management, note taking, public speaking and debate (High school, college and career skills)
  11. Ensure that Students are learning/mastering Microsoft Excel and MS Office products which are used in most college courses

SMART Goal Statement 3: 21st Century Learning Environment

Create a 21st Century Learning Environment that better ensures, safety, security, smaller class sizes (15-18) and ease of access for special needs, in addition to providing modernized, classroom learning labs that facilitate technology integration and activation, personalized instruction, independent and team learning, experiential project-based learning, and an integrated learning environment for Pre-K to 12

SMART Goal Statement 3 Objectives: 21st Century Learning Environment

  1. Lower class sizes to ideal 15 to 18 student range for Pre-K to 5 (Currently 69% of our K-5 classes have 20 - 25 students and 89% have 19 or more kids!!! )
  2. Eliminate trailers from all schools
  3. Develop an incremental 5 to 10-year building plan that addresses not only current overcrowding, but also the impending threat of 3 housing d apartment developments with (based on 1.2 to 1.8 children per HH) will swell our district with 600 to 1,800 children within 5 to 7 years
  4. Elevate our commitment to student mental and physical health and wellness through
    1. Require 100% participation in the President’s Physical Fitness Program where kids have definitive benchmarks, special needs allowances and can earn a patch/award upon achieving each grade level requirement
    2. Encourage healthy food choices through the elimination of processed snacks increasing the offerings of whole fruits and vegetables.
    3. Reinstitute the health and wellness tracking program requiring kids to log their activity for months per year
  5. Fund the Facilities and the Future: Create a focus on fund development and 21st Century public-private strategic partnerships with corporations, foundations and association, generating grants, sponsorships, donations, internships, mentorships, in-kind C&I partnerships and building/classroom learning lab sponsorships; funding the future while reducing tax payer burden

(The statements herein are solely those of Mark A. Robertson and do not necessarily represent that of the West Orange Board of Education) 
 Contact :  201-903-2534     Robertson4BoardofEd@gmail.com  FacebookRobertson4WestOrangeBoardofEd