State test scores show widening achievement gap in Greenwich

Greenwich’s final time taking the state Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) resulted in what Superintendent of Schools William McKersie called “a mixed bag” on Tuesday.

While the town was able to perform above state trends on both tests, which showed decreased scores throughout Connecticut in reading, writing, math and science, there is evidence in Greenwich of an increasing achievement gap, with students in the free and reduced lunch program scoring lower than students not in the program after four years of evidence that the gap had been slowly closing.

“All of us in the district are not happy with that,” Dr. McKersie said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. “We have to figure out what’s going on with that.”

However, what is causing the achievement gap to widen isn’t immediately clear, according to Dr. McKersie. He said that will take analysis of the data, which was only officially released on Tuesday after being in the hands of the district since Friday, more than a month after it was originally supposed to be released by the state. The analysis is only beginning and Dr. McKersie said there was a lot of consternation statewide about dropping scores throughout Connecticut.

“It’s too early for us to figure out why we did drop where we did drop,” Dr. McKersie said. “We’ve got to delve into this and try and understand what is happening.”

Assistant Superintendent Irene Parisi added that the individual schools would report back thoughts and conclusions on the scores to the district’s data team to help inform what changes need to be made on the instructional level.

“It’s a constant stream going back and forth,” Ms. Parisi said.

Dr. McKersie said the district was also unhappy with a “fairly flat” level of achievement in the students who are scoring well on the tests.

“We’re hitting I think what we might call a ceiling at this level,” Dr. McKersie said. “When you start to score readily at that high level, trying to get more growth and change is hard. If I’m already kind of near the upper level how can there be more room for me to grow? That’s part of what’s happening but still it’s a little too flat for us.”

On the CAPT, Greenwich had scores increasing at the goal level in every level except writing, including an increase in science scores for the proficient and goal level, which have been a major issue in past years.. Science scores on the CMT in proficient and goal declined, as they did throughout the state.

On the achievement gap, Dr. McKersie said there was unhappiness in how the data shows it increasing after four years of reduction. He called this “concern number one” as far as the administration was concerned.

The district said the results showed a gap between students using the free and reduced lunch program and those not, which is determined by income. Dr. McKersie said 85% of students not using that program scored at the goal level on the CMT and that “any district at that level or higher is doing superbly well.” However, he said this underscored what the district already knew about the achievement gap and that more effort had to be made from the administration to close it.

“I’ve been saying we need to do a much better job educating our low income students and it’s almost like the gods of test scores heard that,” Dr. McKersie said.

Kim Eves’ the district’s director of communications cited an oft-repeated insistence from the district’s special projects manager, John Curtin, that “one year does not a trend make” and said no one was going to be leaping to conclusions.

“We’re not happy with the results, but we don’t know what this is,” Ms. Eves said. “Is this a one-year phenomenon? We don’t know if it’s based in a programmatic problem or if it’s from an instructional strategy. We don’t have those answers yet.”

Mr. Curtin added, “People want a quick answer when the results come out, but we’re very careful about the process that we go through whether it’s the district level, the school level or the instructional data team of teachers to not do a quickie analysis and then go off in another direction. Another of my favorite sayings is ‘solutions in search of problems.’ You need to define what the issue is and understand it very completely before you take any action.”

The state released the results about six weeks later than normal and the district is beginning analysis before a presentation next month before the Board of Education. The Greenwich District Data Team met this past Tuesday morning and will be speaking to the board about what progress was made in 2012-13 as well as what “mid-course corrections” should be taken for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 action plans. Individual school data teams will also be meeting on these results and the Board of Education is scheduled to take it up at a work session on Sept. 19.

This comes at a time where the board’s plate is full, with having to come up with a response to racial balance and space utilization issues in time for a scheduled October decision. This is also a time of flux for the district because this was the last time students in Greenwich will be taking part in the CMT or CAPT. Next spring students will participate in the field test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test. That test won’t become mandatory until the spring of 2015 but Greenwich is one of a growing number of districts in Connecticut that will be getting an early start by participating in the field test.

Dr. McKersie came out strongly against any suggestion that the numbers showed Greenwich students were not performing well. He called the district “high performing” and said an insistence to the contrary was “factually false.”

“There is no evidence to support that we are not a high-performing district,” Dr. McKersie said.

 

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