SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange–Maplewood Superintendent of Schools Ronald Taylor attended the South Orange board of trustees meeting on Sept. 29, giving the trustees a presentation on equity in the school district, as was requested by trustee Donna Coallier. During the presentation, Taylor shared statistics on equity in high school AP classes and outlined initiatives he said will lead to change in the future.
“What we’d like to do is talk a little bit about racial equity and other equity, LGBTQ, gender, economic diversity in the schools,” Coallier said at the meeting. “We want to get an understanding of how these factors play into advanced and college-prep classrooms, how they play into disciplinary action, how you’re tracking these matters and how you hope to make progress on these matters.”
The BOT sent Taylor a list of questions prior to the meeting; Taylor answered them during his presentation. The first was about the demographics of AP classes at Maplewood Middle School, South Orange Middle School and Columbia High School versus the demographics of the district as a whole. The statistics provided were from the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years; the current school year was not included, because students are allowed to change their schedules through Oct. 15.
“There is, without a doubt, an underrepresentation of children of color in our AP courses,” Taylor said. “When it comes to female students, you can see that there is a higher percentage of female students who are black in AP courses than there are male students who are black. Similarly, there is a higher percentage of male students who are Hispanic than female Hispanic students.”
In 2018-2019, 75.4 percent of students in AP classes at CHS were white, 13.2 percent were black, 3.4 percent were Hispanic, 4.7 percent were Asian and 3.2 percent were multirace. A year later, 76.9 percent of students in AP classes at CHS were white, 10.4 percent were black, 2.6 percent were Hispanic, 3.9 percent were Asian and 6.2 percent were multirace.
“One very interesting piece of data that we’re keeping a close eye on is the multirace category,” Taylor said. “You may or may not be aware that all of our students and their families are self-identified. One of the most interesting pieces of this information is that a family can change their child’s designation while they are enrolled in our district. One jump is the percentage of students enrolled in these courses who identified as multiracial, which doubled.”
Taylor spoke about the district’s plan to make AP classes more diverse. A de-tracking program will begin with the current high school junior class; English 3 students will be invited to move to honors-level courses.
“It’s creating classes that have multiple levels within them,” he said. “For example, this is an English class where you’d have students who are both in the regular college track and those who are in honors level. Students are being allowed to move between those levels within the first marking period.”
Taylor included statistics about white versus black student enrollment in three other honors or AP courses: calculus, physics and chemistry. In all three subjects, the number of black students in the class was lower than the number of white students. Just over 60 percent of the district’s students are white. The data began with the 2014-2015 school year and ended with the 2019-2020 school year.
“One thing that we have to remind ourselves of is that there are no silver bullets,” Taylor said. “There’s no magic bean. Some would suggest you could just take more kids of color and put them in those classes, right? You could do that, and you would no longer have those numbers. But that’s an artificial way to address the circumstance. It doesn’t do children of color any service to place them in a course that they don’t want to be in.”
Taylor’s presentation lasted an hour; he also spoke about tutoring, discipline, professional development for staff, technology and the central office chain of command. The full presentation can be found at www.somsd.k12.nj.us.
“It’s our job as educators to find a way to change these numbers, to put in supports and interventions that are authentic, things that are lasting, that are not just actions that make our numbers look better,” Taylor said.