Schools Program Makes Strides To Close Achievement Gap
Intensive Improvement Program In Struggling Districts Produces Encouraging Results, Pulls Up Reading Skills
Grace E. Merritt
May 05, 2011
New evidence shows that the state's intensive improvement program that targets struggling school districts is making a real difference, particularly with reading skills, state education officials said.
The results are so promising, program leaders told the state board of education Wednesday, that they predict all students will achieve proficiency in reading on the Connecticut Mastery Tests by 2014.
"Everybody is making growth. That's the story here. Every single student," said Heather Levitt Doucette, a consultant with the state Department of Education.
In the program, called the Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative, the state partners with low-performing school districts to help them improve their curriculum and provides professional development and technical assistance to help teachers carry it out.
The 18 partner districts in the CALI program have a large percentage of black and Hispanic students compared with the rest of the state. Taken together, these districts represent 30 percent of the state's public school students. Windsor, Hamden and West Haven were added this year to the initial 15 districts.
The original participating districts are Ansonia, Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Stamford, Waterbury and Windham.
Since the program started four years ago, all students statewide have made steady improvement on the Connecticut Mastery Tests, but the trajectory was accelerated for those in the partner districts, particularly among minorities.
Reading scores for Hispanic third-graders, for instance, shot up from 38 percent at the proficient level in 2007 to 65 percent in 2010. In math, CMT scores went from 64 percent to 71 percent scoring at or above proficiency overall in the partner districts.
Board Chairman Allan Taylor said the results were significant and impressive.
Connecticut struggles with one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, a gap that separates wealthy students from their low-income counterparts and whites from minorities.
Intervention In Windham
In related news, interim state Education Commission George Coleman gave the board an update on Windham, one of the partner districts.
Windham's struggles with poverty, a growing non-English-speaking school population and political divisiveness have had such a negative effect on the schools that the state recently announced it would ramp up its intervention by appointing a "special master" to help run the district.
The special master will work with the school superintendent, school board and the municipal government to run the school system. Coleman said he has a short list of candidates for the job and expects to name a special master, along with an assistant and a clerk, within three weeks.
Coleman said the department has $1 million set aside for each of the next two years to pay for the Windham intervention, and has drafted legislation to make the response official.
Coleman also said he may take similar measures in the future in other struggling districts, but he did not specify any towns.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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