Report: Connecticut Schools Improve Rankings Against Federal Benchmarks
Officials Say Planning, And Instruction In Poor Urban Schools, Paid Off
By GRACE E. MERRITT
August 12, 2010
HARTFORD — — The percentage of Connecticut schools that met federal benchmarks for math and reading rose to 72 percent this year, an improvement that school officials attribute primarily to intensive, targeted planning and instruction in poor urban schools, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report showed that 72 percent of the state's schools made "adequate yearly progress" this year as required by law, up from 60 percent last year.
"Adequate yearly progress" means that 80 percent of the students in the school have met "proficiency" levels in math and reading.
Education experts were pleased by the improvement, pointing out that 125 more Connecticut schools now meet the federal No Child Left Behind benchmark. In addtion, 18 schools came off the federal government's "in need of improvement" list, the most severe designation. That means those schools will no longer face sanctions, such as having to offer tutoring or undergo restructuring.
"People should be very pleased with this," said state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy. "This comes from poring over student performance data and changing instruction to help them to achieve."
Despite the progress, 281 Connecticut schools still do not meet the standard.
"While we see progress, there is more to do," Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said in a statement Wednesday. "Teaching reading skills to students in elementary and middle schools is our challenge. …The issue is even more pressing with the growing number of limited English-proficient students in our state."
At the high school level, mathematics is a greater issue. Poor math skills hold back nearly all high schools that failed to meet performance standards. McQuillan said the results underscore the need for the state's newly adopted high school reforms, starting in 2014, that will require students to take more math courses.
Experts attributed the overall progress this year primarily to improvement plans each school system has developed as well as intense work with a team of state education experts to pinpoint student problem areas and train teachers. The schools study test data and use it to change instruction to better reach students though various methods, such as math labs, tutoring or reading groups.
Another factor could be the impact of taking some special education students out of the equation. This year, the state fully introduced an alternative test to the Connecticut Mastery Test for some special education students. Up to 2 percent of a school system's population can take the alternative test.
Education advocates said the progress should be celebrated, but they also said the standards are set relatively low. Achieving the "proficient" level doesn't mean students have mastered what is expected for their grade level, said Alex Johnston, executive director of ConnCAN, a school reform advocacy group.
"Proficiency on the Connecticut Mastery Test is not a sufficient standard. It's not what we aspire to for our children," Johnston said.
A better standard would be the "goal" level, which he says means reaching grade level. Murphy disagrees with that notion, however, saying "proficient" means meeting grade level benchmarks.
Johnston also pointed out that more Connecticut schools are lingering longer on the needs improvement list. This year, 90 schools have remained on the list for five or more years, up from 87 last year. They include the Moylan School in Hartford, which has been on the list for nine years, and the Columbus School in Bridgeport, which has foundered for 10 years.
"We really need to pay attention to kids in those schools because those are kids who have been stuck an entire school career in a school that is not making progress," Johnston said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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