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Test results vary by district

Updated 12:20 pm, Wednesday, August 14, 2013
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It was a lonely weekend for Monroe School Superintendent James Agostine, who spent days sifting through his district's mixed results on the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test results with no idea how they compared to others.

Like most superintendents, Agostine received only his own district's results on Friday.

"I will tell you we were sweating it out," Agostine said. "The fact is our students still performed."

Tuesday's release of statewide results showed Monroe's scores -- some up, others down -- were actually better than most other districts in the state.

From Bridgeport to Milford, Stratford to Trumbull, the percentage of elementary and middle school students meeting the state's reading and math goal were generally down.

Statewide results showed declines in the third through eighth grade results in reading, math, writing and science -- all the subjects tested. Only 61.6 percent of third graders, statewide, reached the goal set for them in reading, and just 56.9 percent met the goal in math. By eighth grade, 65.7 percent of students statewide met the goal in math and 78.9 percent met the reading goal. In both cases, the percentages were lower than they had been in 2012.

Sophomores who took the Connecticut Academic Placement Test, meanwhile, showed modest improvement over the class that came before them in reading, math and science, although only 48.5 percent -- fewer than half -- could reach the goal in reading, compared to 47.5 percent in 2012. In math, 52.6 percent met the goal in 2013, compared to 49.3 percent in 2012.

Statewide, the CMT was taken by about 242,600 students while about 42,000 students took CAPT. This is the last year all districts will take these tests. Next year, some districts will switch over to the new tests, which align with a new state curriculum test.

The results come despite ongoing efforts by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to improve student achievement and narrow the nation's worst achievement gap. That gap lessened in some areas but actually grew in others, according to results.

"It remains clear that major work lies ahead to ensure that each student is prepared for success in college and career," said Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.

Pryor blamed the decline -- particularly in the early grades -- on the shift to the new statewide Common Core curriculum, which is already underway in many districts.

Andrew Doba, a Malloy spokesman, said the governor has been clear from the beginning that the task of improving public schools will take time.

"While there is certainly more work to do, we are seeing signs of improvement, particularly when it comes to the Commissioner's Network schools. Working with administrators and teachers, this is a challenge that we can and will tackle together," said Doba.

Last year, the state began working with a handful of schools with the lowest test scores, called the Commissioner's Network. All four, including Curiale School in Bridgeport, have shown improvement, Pryor said.

At Curiale, the percentage of students reaching the goal in reading in math in grades three, five and six all saw jumps, some by double digits. Amy Marshall, chief academic officer for Bridgeport Public Schools, said the combination of an extended school day, new principal and new curriculum at Curiale made a difference. There were pockets of growth at Roosevelt and Tisdale schools, she said.

Even so, district level results for Bridgeport, which for the past 18 months has been in the hands of Paul Vallas, a nationally-known figure in the education reform movement, were generally down. Fewer elementary and middle schools students met the reading, writing and math goals. At the high school level in Bridgeport, slight upticks in the percentage of students meeting the reading and math goal meant 11.3 percent of Bridgeport sophomores met the math goal and 8.6 percent met the reading goal.

Vallas said he knew scores this year would be unpredictable given the lack of alignment between the new curriculum and the test.

"I am confident however, that the higher standards will significantly boost student performance," Vallas said.

In Stratford, the scores were also generally down -- 60.7 percent of seventh graders met the reading goal, down from 67.1 percent in 2012. Janet Robinson, the new schools superintendent said that is one reason she was hired.

"One of my purposes here is to bring achievement up," Robinson said. "I think we will use this data to plan for the future."

In Shelton, where elementary and middle school students bucked the trend and saw increases in the percentages of students meeting the math and reading goal in several grades, Superintendent of Schools Freeman Burr said he is generally pleased.

"Especially when you take into account the continuity of last year," Burr said. "We had a hurricane, a blizzard, lost 10 instructional days before the testing."

The percentage of Shelton third graders reading at goal was 72.3, up from 66 in 2012. In math, Shelton's third grade results rose to 79.5 percent at goal, from 71.1 percent last year.

The statewide results also showed gains for many charter schools in a majority of tested grades and subjects. In the eighth grade at Park City Prep Charter School in Bridgeport, for instance, the percentage of seventh graders reaching the math goal jumped from 41.9 to 73.3 percent, and the percentage meeting the reading goal rose from 57.3 to 67.5 percent.

In Monroe, Agostine said his district has been working with the new Common Core curriculum for two years so expected the test would not reflect what students were learning in the classroom. With the new Common Core curriculum, subjects are covered more deeply and expectations are clearer, fewer and higher, Pryor said. As such, students in third grade may encounter questions on statistics and probability that under the new curriculum aren't covered until the seventh grade.

Robinson, from Stratford, said she hopes to pilot the new test in the spring of 2014 and be done with the CMT once and for all. Even then, Pryor said don't expect much, to start.

"The expectation is that with more rigorous and more challenging content ... scores will initially drop," he predicted.

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