The percentage of New Canaan Public School students who achieved goal-level scores in the Connecticut Mastery Test [CMT] and Connecticut Academic Performance Test [CAPT] was significantly greater than the state average in each subject at each grade level, according to test results, which were made public earlier this month.

CMT tests are administered to third- through eighth-grade students throughout the state, and CAPTs are administered to 10th graders. Each year, students in these grade levels complete tests that assess their abilities in math, writing and reading. Additionally fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are tested in science.

"The students performed at high levels across grade levels and across tests," Superintendent David Abbey said Monday.

"Our students' achievement in reading was really terrific, and what I was most excited about was that it's evident that our students are getting off on the right foot in terms of literacy. If you look at the percentage of students at or above goal in the third, fourth and fifth grade, they were at the top of their reference group," Abbey said.

Goal refers to the state target for student performance.

Ninety-one percent of New Canaan third graders met or exceeded goal, as well as 89.9 percent of fourth-graders, 91.9 percent of fifth-graders and 94.9 percent of sixth-graders, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education. Each of those four grade levels boasted the higher percentage of students meeting goal than neighboring Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, Westport and Wilton.

"Early literacy, in which I include math, reading and writing, was a takeaway," Abbey said.

A greater percentage of New Canaan's third- and fourth-graders achieved goal level than peer districts, with 88.4 percent and 92.7 percent, respectively. But the percentage of third- and fourth-graders who met goal in reading was lower than last year's. In 2009, 86.3 percent of third-graders and 90 percent of fourth-graders did so; this year the percentages fell to 82.9 and 87.8, respectively.

But the percentage of fifth-graders who met goal in reading increased this year; last year 93.6 percent met the benchmark, this year 94.5 percent did so. This percentage was also greater than the peer districts, according to data from the State.

There were also differences in achievement within the district.

A breakdown in performance by elementary school showed one of the district's three primary schools leading the pack. Of the 119 fourth-grade students tested at West School, 97 percent reached goal in math, and 96 did so in reading and writing. Additionally, 100 percent of those pupils were deemed "proficient" in reading and writing for the second year in a row.

South School had 87.6 percent of its fourth-graders meet goal in math, 86.7 percent in reading and 86.8 percent in writing, while 93.7 percent of East School students met goal in math, 87.4 percent in reading and 81.4 percent in writing.

"The students at West School did very well, as did East and South," Abbey said. "It's just that that school did extremely well, and I think what's happening at West is happening at all our schools. The students are working hard and the teachers are providing them with excellent instruction."

West School also had the highest percentage of fourth-graders meeting goal in each subject area during the 2009 academic year, as well as the highest percentage of goal-achieving pupils in math in 2008. That same year, South School had the highest percentage of students reaching goal in reading and writing; South's fourth-graders swept the subjects in 2007; as did West's fourth-graders in 2006. East School has not had the highest percentage in any subject within the last five years.

But yearly snapshots of one grade level are not all that matters to Abbey.

"We want to look at how a cohort does from one year to the next," he said. "How did the third graders do, then next year in fourth grade? You don't look at the small differences from year to year, you look at trends over time.

"And I would characterize our performance over the last few years as very high and continuing to strengthen overall," he said.

In this year's seventh-grade class, 93.3 percent of the 284 students tested in New Canaan met the state's goal in math. This shows growth from that cohort's performance last year. In 2009, as sixth-graders, 93 percent of the class met goal; 86.8 percent of the class did so as fifth-graders in 2008; 86.8 percent as fourth-graders in 2007 and 85.4 percent as third graders in 2006.

The seventh-graders also improved from 84.6 percent reaching goal in reading as third-graders to 95.8 percent doing so this year, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education. While the percentage of students in this cohort who met goal in writing climbed steadily from 84.6 percent to 90.3 percent between third and sixth grade, that number dropped a little this year, as 86.9 percent of seventh-graders hit that mark.

The lowest percentage of students to reach the goal mark occurred in the 10th-grade science test, where 80.5 percent of students did so. New Canaan wasn't the only school district to feel this slippage, according to Tom Murphy, of the Connecticut Department of Education.

It's a story that was echoed across the Nutmeg State; 45.5 percent of students statewide met goal in this test. Approximately two out of three Darien 10th-graders met goal in science, as well as 67.2 percent of Fairfield's students, 64.8 percent of Greenwich pupils, and 77 and 78.7 percent of Wesport and Wilton students, respectively.

"There were overall slight gains in CAPT statewide, but we also saw some disappointments in math and science," Murphy said.

"It confirms our recognition that our high school students need a greater emphasis on math and science in order to be prepared for the global economy."

As a result, the State has proposed secondary education reform in Connecticut.

"We're going to be changing the structure of high school to have a greater emphasis on math, science and world language," he said. "We've always had a strong tradition of excellent public schools, and we want to keep that edge. We know it's very important to our Connecticut economy, so we're moving forward with this secondary school reform."

In New Canaan, Abbey said the district's aim is for 90 percent of students to reach goal. This year, five of seven grade levels did so in math and reading; three of seven in writing; and two of three in science.

"Overall it's a strong performance," Abbey said. "And there's room for improvement."