But Achievement Gap Between Suburbs And Cities Persists
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
July 13, 2011
Statewide test scores show that elementary and middle school students are performing generally better this year, continuing a trend of incremental improvement in recent years.
However, the state's 2011 mastery test results continue to show a marked disparity in performance between students from the suburbs and those in the state's cities.
The standardized tests were given in March to 250,000 public school students in grades 3 through 8. They test skills and knowledge in mathematics, reading and writing, as well as science in fifth and eighth grades.
A student who scores at the "proficient" level is making adequate progress; a child who scores at the higher "goal" level has achieved the state's target for performance.
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Acting Education Commissioner George Coleman said he was encouraged by students' progress. But, he added: "The disparity in student performance here in Connecticut has been an unrelenting problem that not only is evident from these latest [mastery test] results, but also in every other standardized assessment that we report."
He said educators need to rethink how better to engage low-performing students through more "culturally relevant" curriculum and programs.
The mastery test results have high stakes: Under the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, a school that slips below proficiency levels for a number of years might be sanctioned. The high stakes also extend to a city or town's reputation and property values.
In Farmington, where the scores are high and seem to keep climbing, Assistant Superintendent Michael Galluzzo said, "It's not uncommon for us to have perspective parents who are shopping between a couple [Farmington] Valley towns, wanting to look at achievement data."
The scores this year show that students in urban areas, including Hartford, generally have improved markedly since 2006 and in many cases have also made modest gains since last year. However, some urban schools' scores remained flat since last year or reflected a small loss.
Whether up or down, kids in the cities still lag far behind their suburban peers in overall performance.
In New Britain, one of the state's "priority" school districts, only 22.8 percent of third-graders reached state goals in reading, up slightly from the previous year's 20.5 percent.
Sharon Locke, district coordinator for testing, said she was still analyzing the data but was pleased about the jump of about 7 percentage points for third-graders achieving proficiency on their reading test. Last year, 35.2 percent of third-graders scored as proficient or better readers; this year that figure climbed to 42.6 percent.
"That's a good indicator that our strategies for reading in our early grades have been paying off," Locke said.
Last year on the math test, 20.4 percent of New Britain's third-graders reached state goals, and this year it was up to 25.4 percent; on the writing test, the percentage of those reaching goal went up from 24.5 percent to 28.3 percent.
On the other hand, the percentage of New Britain eighth-graders reaching goal standards dropped slightly this year in math, reading, writing and science.
In Bridgeport, another priority district, Cynthia Fernandes, executive director for learning and teaching, said the test scores this year "are kind of flat, but they didn't go down."
"We are not quite at adequate yearly progress," Fernandes said. "We are working toward that goal; we just haven't made it yet."
The percentage of Bridgeport eighth-graders who scored at a proficient level or better this year was slightly down for math (60.7 percent) and up a bit for reading (58.4 percent) and writing (55.2 percent.)
By contrast, proficient or better scores for Farmington eighth-graders reached 98.5 percent for math; 95.3 percent for reading; and 95.9 percent for writing this year. Those scores reflect slight increases for math and writing and a decline of a tenth of a point in reading.
"We did very well, but we are never satisfied with what we get," Galluzzo said. "There is no standing still in education, you are either getting better or getting worse."
Galluzzo said he is concerned about the fifth grade's slip in performance on the reading portion of the test: 83.2 percent reached the state's goal; last year 84.5 percent did so.
That's a score that urban school administrators can only hope they might one day see, but it's not where Galluzzo wants to be. He said his staff will be analyzing what exactly happened; he'd like to see that number in the 90th percentile range. (The percentage of Farmington fifth-graders who read at the proficient or better level is 92.3 percent.)
"The two keys are having high expectations and never being satisfied," Galluzzo said.
The test results also reflect differences in achievement according to whether English is a student's primary language and according to gender, ethnicity and race, and eligibility for free or reduced-price meals.
Mark Linabury, spokesman for state Department of Education, said the results for students whose primary language is not English is of particular concern.
The scores show that third- and eighth-graders in this category score more poorly in all tested areas when compared with classmates who are native English speakers. The gap between the groups is substantial, particularly on the reading test, with 31.3 percent of non native-English speakers scoring at the proficient level, while 76.7 percent of native-English speakers do so.
The largest gender difference was evident in the writing test scores. About 70 percent of third-grade girls met the goal standard, compared with 53 percent of third-grade boys.
Among eighth-graders, 73 percent of girls met the goal in the writing test, compared with 57 percent of boys.
Along ethnic and racial lines, the test showed that the percentage of white and Asian American students in third and eighth grades scored similarly and consistently higher than the percentages for Hispanic, black and American Indian students.
The tests continued to show a lower level of achievement among students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Students who are not eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch scored at the state's goal at nearly twice the percentage rate of students who are eligible.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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