Connecticut Schools Get Their Report Cards This Week
GRACE E. MERRITT
July 28, 2009
HARTFORD - The Connecticut Mastery Test scores that will be released Wednesday will give school officials and teachers a snapshot of how well they're doing.
Parents and teachers can use the state data from the tests that students took last March to see how their town's schools stack up against other towns' and see how students are doing grade by grade.
The test, given to 250,000 public school students throughout the state, assesses whether third- through eighth-graders have the math, reading and writing skills they are expected to have learned. A similar test, called the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, is given to 10th-graders. Students in grades 5, 8 and 10 are also tested in science, a relatively new addition.
The test results give schools feedback on what they are doing well and pinpoint trouble spots where they need to adjust the curriculum or teaching techniques. Education leaders also use the data to compare demographic groups by sex and race to see if the instruction is reaching everyone effectively, and they also use it to track individual classes as they progress through the school.
"We can look at students who did well in fourth grade and look to see if they also do well in fifth grade and then the sixth grade," said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
The tests also determine whether school systems have slipped under the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines and whether they have made adequate yearly progress to address deficiencies.
Connecticut was among the first states in the nation to introduce statewide standardized testing in 1986, Murphy said. The test was designed to provide information about how students and schools were doing and use that information to change curriculum and drive instruction.
Parents won't get individual test results for their children until September, when each school district distributes them.
Education leaders caution that parents should keep the test scores in perspective, pointing out that the test is only one measure of a school's success.
"It's one key indicator, but we also use other nonacademic indicators, such as suspension rates and attendance as well as student satisfaction," said Jeff Mulqueen, assistant superintendent for instructional services in New Britain.
"For parents, it's probably a better measure to look at their own child's performance in school," he said.
"Whatever the results are, remember this is a one-time snapshot. The test only measures a limited portion of the things a child is expected to learn and probably did learn during the year," said Monty Neill, interim executive director of FairTest, an advocacy group seeking to reform assessment and evaluation in education.
Some experts have criticized standardized tests, saying that they encourage schools to "teach to the test" to get better scores.
Kathy Frega, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Education Association, agrees, adding that in recent years No Child Left Behind has led to a "growing over-reliance on high-stakes testing."
Neill said: "A lot of it is very harmful because it means the curriculum is narrowed or that in a given subject like language arts, too much time is spent on test preparation rather than on taking the time to read real books or write papers or have a class discussion."
"Parents really need to be talking about this. If they get better scores, is it because the school has narrowed the curriculum or is it, in fact, that better teaching is going on?" he said.
Murphy acknowledged the criticism but said that educators are now more aware of finding balance within their curriculum with subjects that aren't tested, such as social studies, art and music.
"They are teaching to the test within a balance. If you're assessing what's important — that is, basic skills needed to survive in an academic environment — then there is pretty widespread agreement that you should be taught to the test," he said.
•Which organelle is responsible for allowing materials into and out of an animal cell?
D. Cell membrane
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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