WEST WINDSOR-PLAINSBORO: District’s reasoning for ending A&E math in fourth and fifth grades is misleading

Yunqing Li, Ph.D., Princeton Junction
After reading through the WW-P school district’s reasons for eliminating the Accelerated & Enriched (A&E) math program for fourth and fifth grades, I find the logic rather lacking.
The school district gave the reasons in the district’s Gifted & Talented Program Review Internal Report: “Comparing the semester grades of ninth and 10th grade H&A (A&E) students: students who started the A&E program in grades 4 or 5 average 91.3 percent at the end of the first semester. Students who entered the program after fifth grade averaged 92.3 percent. There is no statistically significant difference between the two groups. If WW-P were to start A&E math at the sixth grade level, students would meet with the same success.”
Unfortunately, the arguments are misleading.
First, the data in the Internal Report do not support the recommendation that the sixth grade level is a better time to start A&E math than the fourth and fifth grades. Rather, they provide direct evidence that A&E students, regardless of time of entry, are a homogenous cohort. All A&E students were tested into the program. Once they enter, they receive an identical middle school A&E curriculum. It is only natural that their grades are similar when they get into high school.
What the Internal Report did not mention are the potential negative impacts of eliminating the program on students who would be in A&E in the fourth or fifth grade. The district’s external report of the G&T program has identified a perceived lack of challenges at the primary level. Should WW-P cancel A&E at the fourth and fifth grades, these students will not be intellectually challenged by the regular curriculum and are likely to lose interest in math. Thus, a decision to defer offering A&E math until middle school will damage our students’ intellectual advancement in the long run.
Furthermore, the analysis cited in the Internal Report is not statistically sound. A statistical comparison of two groups should be based on the assumption that two groups consist of independent samples. This assumption is not true in analyzing homogenous A&E students. The two groups are highly correlated.
In addition, the Internal Report did not disclose the number of students in each group, either. This is a piece of public information that is easy to obtain. The fact is only a small fraction of the students in the A&E program started in middle school. A recent eighth grade A&E class in one of the district middle schools has approximately 28 students, among whom only four started the program in middle school. At the same time, the seventh grade A&E class in the same school has about 35 students, among whom five started in middle school. How could have a conclusion that “if WW-P were to start A&E math at the sixth grade level, students would meet with the same success” been drawn from this flawed analysis?
The same Internal Report remarks that A&E program “supports deep content knowledge; provides a foundation for problem solving, proof and mathematical thinking; is appropriate in content and pace to meet beyond the curriculum learning needs.” To eliminate such an inspiring program, based on insufficient data and reasoning, is irrational and irresponsible. It is NOT the right thing to do. 
Yunqing Li, Ph.D. 
Princeton Junction 