Over 5 Years, Gap Shrinks Between Poor And Middle-Class Regular
March 29, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
In the state's most
troubled urban schools, English-speaking children in regular
classes have made encouraging progress in reading, writing and
mathematics over the past five years, according to test scores
Among those children, schools in Connecticut's poorest cities
and towns made greater gains on the annual Connecticut Mastery
Test than did schools elsewhere in the state, officials said.
Although urban students, including large numbers of low-income
minority children, continue to lag far behind white middle-class
children on the test, the latest results represent at least some
progress in closing the gap.
"I was delighted to see those numbers," said
state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, who has called
the achievement gap the state's most pressing educational problem.
"I'm encouraged," she said. "We
have to continue to press on."
The five-year trend suggests that millions of dollars in state
support for the state's neediest schools in recent years - including
money for reading programs and preschool classes - appears to
be having an effect, Sternberg said.
The gains on the test of fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders,
however, do not reflect results of special education students
or children with limited English-speaking ability - groups that
make up large portions of enrollments in many of the state's
State officials say the performance of those students is more
difficult to judge because of changing rules under the federal
No Child Left Behind Act. The law has required the testing of
thousands of additional special education students and non-English-speaking
children on recent tests, making it impossible to draw comparisons
between the latest scores and previous results, Sternberg said.
No Child Left Behind calls for an expansion of testing and is
aimed at closing the achievement gap for low-performing groups
of children, such as those with disabilities or with limited
When the increasing numbers of those children are factored into
the latest statewide scores, there is no clear-cut pattern of
either better or worse performance during the five years of the
current version of the mastery test, officials said. Because
many more special education students and non-English-speaking
children now are being tested, some urban schools, such as those
in Hartford, show an overall decline in performance when those
scores are counted.
As a result, even with the improvement among those who are not
in special education or English language training programs, most
schools in the state's poorest cities are not on a pace to meet
the strict progress demanded under No Child Left Behind, the
3-year-old federal school reform law.
Still, test results in seven high-poverty school systems - Hartford,
Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain, New London, Waterbury and
Windham - showed promising growth in proficiency levels among
English-speaking students in regular programs, especially in
sixth and eighth grade.
The proficiency standard is lower than the state goal but is
used for measuring progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.
At the more difficult state goal level, 59 percent of the state's
fourth-graders, 68 percent of sixth-graders and 72 percent of
eighth-graders met the standard in reading, not counting special
education students or children with limited English-speaking
ability. Similarly, in mathematics, 63 percent of fourth-graders,
68 percent of sixth-graders and 62 percent of eighth-graders
met the goal.
In analyzing the proficiency standard among children who are
not in special education or English language training programs,
the state found:
About 53 percent of sixth-graders in the seven poorest towns
scored at or above the proficiency level in reading, a five-year
gain of about 7 percentage points. In the rest of the state,
86 percent of students scored at the proficiency level or better,
a five-year gain of slightly more than 1 percentage point.
In eighth grade, 53 percent of students in the seven towns were
judged proficient or better in mathematics, a 9 percentage point
increase over the five-year period. Elsewhere in the state, 88
percent were judged proficient, a 1 percentage point increase
in five years.
In other towns, 87 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above
the proficiency level in reading, less than a 1 percentage point
increase over five years, but in the seven poorest towns, 56
percent were proficient or better, an 8 percentage point gain.
"That's great. ... It's exciting to hear that," said
Kathleen Greider, principal at Hartford's Dwight School, one
of the top-scoring elementary schools in the city. She said city
schools have begun focusing more attention on matters such as
teacher training, preschool classes and academic standards.
Nevertheless, when special education students and children learning
to speak English are counted in the results, Dwight's scores
are down slightly in reading and mathematics.
Since the mastery test was introduced two decades ago, Connecticut
has focused increasing attention on urban schools in an effort
to close the achievement gap. The state, for example, will spend
$46 million on preschool classes in the state's neediest towns
this year, up from $10 million annually when the state-sponsored
preschool program was started eight years ago.
"We have plenty of [pre-kindergarten programs] now. There's
no reason why a child 4 years old can't get into a pre-K," said
Deborah Howell, a veteran mathematics teacher at Rotella Magnet
School in Waterbury.
Howell said she was encouraged by the latest results.
"I'm very impressed with what's happened," she said. "Here
in Waterbury, we have a pretty well-defined curriculum that goes
along with state objectives. ... I'm looking forward to even
more improvement next year."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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