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Even Top State Schools Get 'Needs Improvement' Grade


September 02, 2009

Some of the state's more prestigious high schools, including Hall in West Hartford, Glastonbury High and Greenwich High, have been put on the state's "needs improvement" list because they failed to meet yearly benchmarks under No Child Left Behind, according to a report released Tuesday.

While the news is surprising, it also shows that it's getting harder to stay off the list. The test measures not only how a school's student body does as a whole, but also tracks subgroups such as non-English-speakers and special-education students. In each case, 80 percent of the group must be proficient in math and reading to pass a benchmark that keeps rising.

In Glastonbury, West Hartford and Greenwich, subgroups, rather than the entire student body, landed the towns on the list. In Glastonbury's case, the test scores of the special-education subgroup led to the downgrade, Superintendent Alan B. Bookman said.

These suburbs have plenty of company. In Connecticut, 40 percent of schools failed to meet performance standards, according to results released by the state Department of Education Tuesday. In all, 406 schools failed to reach proficiency, down from 408 schools last year.

The benchmarks measured by No Child Left Behind are based on the proportion of students achieving proficiency or better on the Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

Schools land on the "needs improvement" list after they have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for two years in a row. The test measures subgroups of 40 or more students. So a smaller school may have an advantage because it may not have, for example, 40 or more special-education students or 40 or more non-English-speaking students, Bookman said.

"The thing to remember is this is one test. There's much more to education than just one test," Bookman said.

State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said the fact that West Hartford, Glastonbury and Greenwich are on the list shows that the law, first adopted in 2001, is getting progressively tougher.

The law now requires 80 percent of students in the school or subgroups to be proficient in math and reading. Next year, the bar will rise to 90 percent.

"As the standard increases, we expect to see more and more schools on the list," Murphy said. "That's the dichotomy of the law. There will be many parents who will say, 'My school's a good school. It's not in need of improvement.' There may be some questioning as well as soul searching.

"The law is about expectations and moving the agenda forward and also looking to each school to find ways to improve the achievement not only of the whole school but of every child. That's the strength and weakness of the law."

In Glastonbury, in addition to the high school, Smith Middle School is on the "needs improvement" list and Naubuc Elementary School was cited for not making adequate yearly progress.

In West Hartford, the King Philip Middle School was also labeled "needs improvement," while Conard High School and Sedgwick Middle School were cited for not making adequate yearly progress. West Hartford officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the same time, 10 schools statewide improved enough to come off the list, including two magnet schools in New Haven and schools in Ellington, Middletown and Windham.

In New Haven, school administrators were elated by the news that the King/Robinson Magnet School and the Sheridan Communications and Technology Magnet School were removed from the list.

"It's really, really exciting for us," said Imma Canelli, assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum.

The King/Robinson school, in particular, had languished on the list for nine years before it was rebuilt and reconstituted as a pre-K through Grade 8 magnet school with an international baccalaureate curriculum.

"We couldn't be happier to have a school in that shape come off the list," Canelli said.

Overall, the state's performance as a whole hasn't changed much, Murphy said.

"It's basically the same as last year, but it shows that we're not getting it done in reading at elementary and middle school and in math at the high school," he said.

About 66 percent of the high schools that didn't make adequate yearly progress failed to measure up in both math and reading, Murphy said. An additional 25 percent failed because of their math scores alone, he said.

The poor math scores in particular underscore the need for secondary school reform in Connecticut, a proposal that state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan has been advocating, Murphy said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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