Flash Features: news and student achievements

Swatting forum discusses changes in approach to solving recurrent issue

On Thursday, October 29, members of the Princeton community gathered at John Witherspoon Middle School to learn more about the recent swatting events and to ask questions in an open-discussion environment. Presenters introduced new leads and findings in the search for the people behind the calls, and also discussed new methods of tracking these instigators down.

The current solution that the district is pursuing is a filtering service that will be installed into the school telephones. This system will transfer any blocked ID calls to specially trained security personnel for more accurate evaluation of threat, as opposed to the office secretaries who have been receiving the calls up until now. This will also allow local law enforcement to take more specific measures that are as non-disruptive as possible.

“I feel very confident in telling you … that the [calls] that we’re experiencing this year are not emanating from the same perpetrator that we were experiencing from last academic school year,” said Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter. There have been a total of ten swatting incidents in the district since April 28, when Riverside Elementary School received the first call.

The forum was organized by the Princeton Public Schools and the Princeton Police Department in order to reassure worried parents, students, and other community members about the steps the district is taking to address the recent swatting incidents. About 50 people attended the event, which is the second gathering of this type—an initial community meeting was held at JWMS on May 19. “There is nothing more important to all of us than the physical and emotional safety of our kids,” said Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools Steve Cochrane at the forum.

According to presentations at the meeting, the district has been working with local, state, and national law enforcement agencies to combat these disruptions and find the perpetrators.

“I view these incidents as an act of terrorism,” he said. “It may not fit the definition that many use in the law enforcement circles, but for me and what I see and how it affects us—our community and our children—it’s terrorism … It’s the highest priority event that you’ll see us respond to.”

The speakers emphasized the national spectrum of these incidents. “It won’t take much research to … find out that nationally, suspects have been identified in various events around the nation and arrests have been made,” Sutter said. “We are working forensically to link our incidents … Every time we get a call, our detective bureau is working right alongside national experts from the FBI, processing this information with the warrants that we have and putting the pieces together.”

Matthew Wang ’18 is a regional finalist in this year’s Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for high school students. Photo: Annie Gao

Students recognized for research in nationwide Siemens science competition

On November 7, Matthew Wang ’18 was selected to be a regional finalist in the 15th annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for high school students. Each year about 2,000 entries are submitted.

On September 20, 2015, high school students submitted individual and team projects based on innovative research to regional and national levels of competition. Semifinalists were chosen from 6 regions in October. Wang was recently selected along with about 60 other projects to compete as a regional finalist.

Wang spent this past summer researching at a university with a partner. “In the past 50 years of high-energy astrophysics there has been this theory called dynamical friction, which is basically the idea that black holes are settling towards the galactic center, but there has been no evidence for it. So our spatial analysis conducted the first observational evidence for this theory,” Wang said. After writing a research paper on the evidence, they entered it in the contest.

As finalists, Wang and his partner recently delivered a 12-minute presentation to a panel of ten judges from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including two astrophysics experts. “My partner [and I] rehearsed a lot so it wasn’t that nerve-wracking, I guess the most nerve-wracking part was … just being in the presence of all the judges, [because] they were all experts in their respective fields,” Wang said. He won several prizes for his achievement, including apparel, office supplies, and a $1,000 scholarship.

Success in the contest is influenced greatly by the outcome of research projects that students take on. “I … entered because we found results … If I do research next year, if I have good results … then probably [I will enter again],” Wang said.

Wang’s sister Crystal Wang ’16 also qualified as a semi-finalist, for the second time in her high school career. Working with a mentor in New York this summer, Crystal Wang researched geometry-based problems, searching for the quadrilateral which has the least area that can circumscribe a convex disc. With conclusive results, she entered and qualified as a returning semi-finalist. She plans to further pursue her love of math in college.

“[My favorite part] was definitely the experience in the summer when we both were going to the lab … it was a great experience,” Matthew Wang said.

Graphic: Caroline Tan

New Jersey students perform below national average on PARCC test

On October 20, the results for the standardized test created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers were released. New Jersey students did not meet standards set in place by the test’s creators.

According to the New Jersey website, “The majority of New Jersey students in grades 3 through 11 failed to meet grade-level expectations on controversial math and English tests the state says provide the most accurate measurement of student performance yet.” They further explain that these results indicate a need for more rigorous graduation requirements. The test was criticized for its extensive hours and new computer format, which inspired a series of “opt-out” movements where community members urged school districts, including Princeton Public School District, to allow students to refrain from participating in the assessment.

The PARCC examination is not closely related to the previous NJASK and HSPA tests, which posed more knowledge-based questions. The purpose of the PARCC assessment—evaluating college readiness—is more closely aligned to the SAT and ACT.

In spite of these intentions, the majority of students ended up scoring less than proficient, inciting further discussion about the critiques given last spring. “There could be a lot of factors … you would have to look much deeper to find out the reasons for the declining scores,” said history teacher Rick Miller.

“I think it’s a poorly designed test … Because [of] the whole opt-out movement, I think the sample size has gotten smaller,” said English teacher John Bathke. “Once you decrease sample size then the chances for error become greater.”

However, this has only been the first year of full examination, and scores are usually low in the infant stages of an assessment’s development.

The PARCC has expanded upon previous testing standards to assess other subjects, including those in the humanities, and has emphasized the skill of applying concepts instead of just memorization. “From a history teacher’s perspective, I like [PARCC] better than New Jersey ASK. I think it’s more rigorous than New Jersey ASK,” Miller said.

In general, October’s low scores have definitely prompted greater thought about standardized testing in schools today. “I wouldn’t all of a sudden write our students off saying they’re not doing well, because I think we have great students,” Miller said. “And I don’t know if this one test is really … the single most important measure that we should be necessarily using.”

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