The city school system's trend of incremental gains appeared to hit a roadblock on the 2013 standardized exams.
On the Connecticut Mastery Test for students in grades 3 to 8, notable improvement for Hartford's sixth-graders in mathematics, reading and writing was among the few positives in a year that produced mostly dips and small upticks across grade levels, according to state data released this week.
Results on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for tenth-graders were no more encouraging: Hartford dipped in math and writing, made a small gain in reading and a larger increase in science, although the science scores remained about 30 percentage points below the state average.
Achieve Hartford!, an advocacy group for school reform, released its weekly newsletter Thursday night with a single word as the headline: "Flat." It accompanied graphs showing the district's moderate gains, dating back to 2007, reaching a statistical plateau this year.
Paul Holzer, Achieve Hartford's executive director, offered another word -- "troubling" -- when asked about the city's test scores.
"The fact that we had six years of an upward sloping trend come to an end ... is a huge concern to all stakeholders of Hartford's education and is cause for some serious scrutiny," Holzer said.
The district characterized the citywide results as "statistically neutral."
Out of 43 city schools listed -- excluding Betances Early Reading Lab, an elementary school that is the focus of a state investigation into possible cheating on the 2013 mastery test -- district officials said in a statement Thursday that scores at 15 schools increased this year.
Ten of those schools are non-magnet schools, the district pointed out, including Global Communications Academy, a recently designated International Baccalaureate World School, and Rawson and West Middle elementary schools.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was unavailable to discuss the scores, schools spokesman David Medina said.
In a statement, Kishimoto said that "the accomplishments of the non-magnet schools have very important policy implications for the board of education. We have to be smart about sustaining and accelerating the progress in those schools going forward."
School board Chairman Matthew Poland said Hartford's overall scores are "disappointing."
"The gains have been few," Poland said this week. "But I think it's important to juxtapose Hartford's experience to other urban centers. We're not making enough of a difference in any of the cities."
Statewide, CAPT scores improved slightly in all subjects except for writing, while state data show small declines in all subjects and grade levels on the mastery test. Urban school systems remained far behind other districts, and the achievement gap persists for Latinos, African Americans and low-income students who perform well below whites and wealthier peers on the exams.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Poland cited their disappointment in the "pace" of the district's progress as a factor for not extending Kishimoto's three-year contract beyond mid-2014. The board voted in June to reject her contract extension request.
"Regardless of there being an impending leadership transition in Hartford," Holzer said, "the board and the district need to dive deep into the data to find out where exactly students are falling down, and find ways to address those areas with a sense of urgency.
"While some people have thought that making gains would become easier over time, we all need to face the reality that this may get harder," Holzer continued. "We must find ways to more aggressively get teachers and students the support they need."
On the CAPT's science section, Hartford 10th-graders improved to 19.1 percent meeting the state's level of knowledge on the subject. But at some city schools, performance among high school sophomores declined.
Science scores for Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, a magnet school, dropped from nearly 35 percent meeting the goal in 2012 to 26.1 percent this year. At the Journalism and Media Academy, science scores improved slightly but goal-level reading declined from 11.4 to 8.9 percent in 2013.
The district highlighted improvements at Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy, where the school boosted its goal-level reading from 1 percent last year to 3.8 percent. Test-takers who met the math goal reached 12.3 percent, a gain of 5.6 percentage points.
At Jumoke Academy at Milner Elementary, a struggling North End school that entered the state's Commissioner's Network last summer, eighth-graders posted major gains in reading, writing and science; seventh-graders improved in math; and sixth-graders had a significant jump in writing.
Aside from writing, however, earlier grades at Milner showed a decline in scores.
The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now -- an advocacy group known as ConnCAN -- noted that the percentage of Milner students reaching goal improved slightly overall in its first year of state intervention and being managed by the Jumoke Academy charter school. Milner received extra state funding to hire classroom aides and provide more resources to students learning English.
"Efforts to turnaround these chronically low-performing schools must move forward," ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander said Thursday.
Next year, Hartford plans to transition to a new computerized test called Smarter Balanced that is aligned with the tougher Common Core State Standards that Connecticut schools have begun shifting toward in their classroom instruction.
Districts can opt to take the computer-based exam as soon as 2014 instead of the traditional CMT and CAPT exams. Starting in 2015, the state expects all public schools to administer Smarter Balanced to assess students' skills in math and English language arts.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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