New Canaan High School students performed very well on a slate of standardized tests in 2012, according to a report principal Bryan Luizzi delivered to the Board of Education Nov. 5. New Canaan students finished second in the state in average cumulative SAT scores, and scored exceptionally well on their Advanced Placement and Connecticut Academic Performance Tests, the report stated.
According to Luizzi's report, the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, or CAPT, is an "assessment tied to state curriculum standards with scores indicating student performance in four areas: math; science; reading; and writing." The test is scored on a 1 to 5 scale, with a score of 4 labeled as "goal." The test is given to all 10th-graders each year.
The results show that 84 percent of students scored 4 or better in math, 79 percent in science, 89 percent in reading, and 93 percent in writing.
New Canaan High School students performed in the top half of DRG A (the group of schools in this region of the state that are similar in achievement and in funding) in all subjects except science. New Canaan led the DRG A in the percentage of students receiving a 4 or 5 in reading.
New Chairman of the Board of Education Alison Bedula said she was happy with the results.
"We were pleased. I think the kids did well. We definitely improved in some areas. They break these scores down to the particular strands, and (use that to) tweak the curriculum so that our kids will be more prepared (for the next test)."
The results also showed a pronounced gender gap in each subject, which was shared by varying degrees by all other schools in the DRG A, but which is considerably less than the gap in the statewide average for schools.
The gap in the percentage of students who received a 4 or 5 on the test was highest in the math section, where 92 percent of boys scored at the level and 77 percent of girls scored at the level, a 15-point difference. On the science section, 79 percent of boys and girls scored a 4 or 5. In reading girls performed better than boys by nine points and in writing girls did better than boys by eight points.
The gender gap is much more apparent at the higher achieving levels, and can be seen clearly by removing the number of students who scored a 4 on the test, looking only at those who scored 5.
At this level, the achievement difference is 18 points in math, with 61 percent of boys scoring a 5 and 43 percent of girls scoring a 5. In science, 58 percent of boys scored a 5 and 42 percent of girls did the same, for a 16 point difference. In reading, 66 percent of girls scored a 5 while 46 percent of boys did, a 20-point difference. In writing, 72 percent of girls scored a 5, while 56 percent of boys did, a 16 point difference.
Luizzi said he doesn't know the exact reason for these differences, but says the school has tried to address them.
"If I knew the answer, I could write a book," he said. "Part of it is confidence in the area, confidence going into taking the exam. We see it in the interests of students. For instance, a few years ago, we looked at (enrollment) numbers in Honors English and it was weighted toward girls. Where that holds true, we try to develop a more balanced course, try to encourage boys to go into class. We looked at the selections we've used in reading, the types of writing we've chosen our students to do, selecting reading assignments that are of interest to boys and to girls.
"The school takes the CAPT tests very seriously. In order to graduate, each student must pass each test with a 4 or a 5. If the student doesn't reach that level in 10th grade, they must try again in 11th grade."
Luizzi said by junior year, most of the kids make the grade, but that in the various sections, between four and 15 juniors still did not pass, though this includes some overlap of students who did not pass more than one section. Luizzi said in such a situation the students can prove their proficiency in another way, such as through a score of 50 or better on the PSAT in a given section, or interdisciplinary projects, like a math portfolio.
Bedula said that the importance the school places on CAPT results was not an indication of "teaching to the test," but rather that the school views the test as a useful tool.
"We do not teach to the test; that is not a goal. I think what happens is that, if anything, it will bring to our attention the areas that need improvement ... . If you've got the material embedded properly in the curriculum, then you're not just teaching to the test."
New Canaan High School students performed well on the SAT test this year, scoring the second highest of any school district in the state, behind Wilton. The average score was 591 in reading, 600 in writing and 604 in math, for an average combined score of 1,795. The SATs are scored on a 200-800 scale, wherein a score of 500 is the median score. Thus, the national average is a 1,498.
Luizzi said he was proud of his students for their results.
"We do generally score very well on the test and have through the years, I think it shows again how seriously our students take the exam and how focused they are. They work very hard for that."
New Canaan High School students had a strong showing on the Advanced Placement tests administered at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Of the 553 exams taken, the 289 students received a 3 or better on the 1 to 5 scale 95 percent of the time. That is the highest rate since 2006 for the school.
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