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Great Gains! 50% of Third Graders in Hartford Still Not Proficient in Reading

By Kerri Provost

July 20, 2012

After politicians and lobbyists spent the spring building the case that teachers were failing to do more than seek protection from unions, there was much self-congratulatory sentiment following yesterday’s announcement from the State Department of Education that CMT/CAPT scores had improved. Though Governor Malloy’s “education reform legislation” was not passed until months after students had filled out bubble sheets to prove they were learning, that fact has not prevented some from attributing the gains to the so-called reform movement.

In Hartford, gains did not occur across the board; in fact, the total percentage of third graders proficient in reading actually decreased slightly: in 2011, 51.5% were proficient, but in 2012, the number dropped to 50%:

According to Education Week, “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time.” Third graders’ proficiency in math also dropped slightly over the last year, from 60.8% to 60.1%. Writing was the only area in which the third grade students from 2012 made gains in proficiency, and those were modest, going from 66.2% to 68.4%.

For Hartford’s third graders taking the MAS (Modified Assessment test) in place of the CMT, only 37.8% were proficient citywide, which is an actual gain over the 31.9% of third grade students in 2011 taking the MAS who were proficient in reading.

What does proficiency even mean? Though the “goal” is the item most bragged about, proficiency is simply put, getting by. There are specific skills students need to demonstrate to be considered proficient. The following standards are for third grade students:

Information prepared by the Bureau of Research, Evaluation and Student/Assessment Connecticut State Department of Education

Where are some of the students having trouble?

The Latino Studies Academy at Burns, which experienced a leadership change mid-year with no warning to the students, saw some improvements — but these gains mean little when only 27.8% of third graders are proficient in reading. In 2006, the earliest available date for such data, 25.3% of students — same age, same school — were proficient; in 2008, 13.7% were. In every category — math, reading, and writing — there are no steady gains or losses at Burns. These numbers fluctuate, seemingly inexplicably, from year-to-year.

María C. Colón Sánchez Elementary, in the same neighborhood as Burns and with similar demographics, has also seen wildly fluctuating numbers. Comparing only 2006 reading to 2012 reading, it may seem like a steady increase from 11.3% to 40% reading proficiency, but for the years in between, the results have appeared as follows: 14.9%, 31.8%, 24.2%, 22%, and 48%. With this kind of data, how does one isolate what has been effective over time?

At the Core Knowledge Academy at Milner, where controversial redesign plans are in the works, had no third grade students reaching goal in math for 2012; 5.4% were at or above proficiency in the subject. From 2011 to 2012, there was a ten percentage point drop in reading level proficiency, sinking to 13.5%. Writing also suffered immensely. In 2011, 64.7% were deemed to be proficient in writing; this year, 25%. Jumoke Academy, which is not part of the Hartford Public School system yet is slated to join in a partnership with Milner, experienced some slight drops in proficiency from 2011 to 2012 for its third graders, but there, the decrease was from 100% to 95.7% in math and and 90.7% to 83% proficiency in reading.

WISH is another school with primarily decreasing scores:

From the press release sent at 4:01pm yesterday, immediately after the State’s announcement, one would believe that Hartford students did nothing but improve. The title, even, claimed “Hartford Test Scores Rise for the Fifth Straight Year,” ignoring that this was not true for every category nor at every school. Those schools in the district where the numbers did not show success simply were left out of the press packet. Even schools with better scores were portrayed inaccurately. The Hartford Public Schools’ press release states:

Betances, the Pre K-3 elementary school led by Principal Immacula Didier that was

designed to be the centerpiece of Dr. Kishimoto’s Third Grade Promise initiative, scored the

highest increase with an outstanding gain of 35.9 points. Prior to 2012, the highest increase

recorded by a Hartford school was 21.8 points.

Yet, what this does not show is that rather than a steady climb, there have been setbacks, making it unclear how much progress is truly occurring and has permanence. It also was not reported that the number of third graders taking the reading portion of the CMT decreased significantly at Betances:

Data can be interpreted any number of ways. To see data about your school, without spin, check out this site.

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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