Student achievement discussion promised as early school board focus

Student achievement and the most recent results in state standardized tests were a key part of the Board of Education’s agenda last week, but more data and analysis is expected before an action plan for further improvement is put together.

Recent results from the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) showed improvement, but with other districts also improving, it still left Greenwich near the bottom of district reference group (DRG) B, where the town is placed due to its population makeup and behind similarly wealthy towns in DRG A as well.

A full report was issued at the board’s Aug. 30 meeting, which was the first of the new school year, and Superintendent of Schools William McKersie highlighted what he felt was “lots of good news” in it. This includes five-year highs in 2012 in the aggregated percentage of students in grades three through eight achieving at the proficiency, mastery and advanced levels for reading, writing, math and science on the CMT. He also pointed to growth in reading and math scores on the CMT when compared to similar communities, growth in the number of students taking advanced placement (AP) tests along with rising scores and five-year highs on the CAPT for 10th graders scoring the advanced level in math, science and writing and a three-year high for the advanced level in reading.

 

But there continue to be issues, Dr. McKersie acknowledged. He pointed to the achievement gap that the test scores show and said while there is evidence it is narrowing in one area, there is more to be done.

Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty said that the standardized test results alone should not be taken as the only indicator of student performance in the district.

“The role of standardized tests have increased over the past 10 years, especially since the adoption of No Child Left Behind,” Ms. Moriarty said. “There have been a lot of benefits to this focus because it’s highlighted some areas that we need to pay attention to but are not visible when you look at district averages. I think our instructional practices and delivery models have been proved using the information available from these tests. But while they are important, standardized tests do not tell the whole story on any district. It’s important to look at the whole student and the qualities we identify in the vision of the graduate and the other experiences we want our students to have before they leave our system.”

In addition, Dr. McKersie said that there would soon be big changes, since in the spring of 2015 the whole state testing system is set to be overhauled. This new standardized testing evaluation called Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) which will follow the common core of instruction, and will replace the CAPT and CMT. He warned that if the district didn’t get focused on that “our students will be behind the 8-ball” when it happens.

Ms. Moriarty stressed that this was only meant to be a beginning to the evaluation and that this would be followed “by more detailed discussion over the next several months.” That discussion will continue tonight at a board work session set for 7 in the Havemeyer Building, where it will get its first public look at a report on summer school, which has been listed as a possible option to improve student achievement.

John Curtin, the district’s X, called the report “an update, not an action plan” and a “first step in how we plan to improve.” Dr. McKersie added there are “major monitoring reports” that are “quite significant” to come in the months ahead. He said the district has the data now, but what will follow is the analysis of what exactly should be the response.

“Over the next meetings we’re really going to dig into what this all means and then determine an action,” Dr. McKersie said.

Board member Jennifer Dayton said that data showing achievement issues for students who have spent less than three years in the district “continues to be a concern.” She said she was very interested in tonight’s discussion on summer school and that she wanted the board to look at increased summer school marketing to new families. Ms. Dayton also said she wanted to hear more about investment in math education at the elementary level, a report that is expected to be delivered on Nov. 1 at a work session.

When it comes to the increase in reading scores, at least in the short term, Ms. Dayton said that she wanted to know what the impact was of the reallocation of literacy specialists over the course of the last year.

“Let’s examine what did we do differently and let’s learn from that and build on our success,” Ms. Dayton said.

Summer school was also a focus for board member Steven Anderson when he talked about the need for the action plan in how to close gaps for students less than three years in the district and for those transitioning from elementary to middle school.

“It is time for an action plan and it might be something like summer school marketing or it might be that we start dictating that students who are new and have been here less than three years get an extra hour a day of education,” Mr. Anderson said. “It can’t just be us sitting here ‘Oh yeah, that’s a concern’ and then next year we say the same thing again. Will we ruffle a few feathers in the process? Sure, but I think we need to look specifically at those two groups.”

Board Vice Chairman Barbara O’Neill said she felt data on kindergarten and grades one and two in the district, which are not tested, would offer a better understanding of grade three test scores in the first round of CMTs for kids. She added that she felt additional data from those first two years would offer a better understanding about why that gap in achievement for kids three years or less in the district seems to exist.

“If we had data there it seems to me that it might help us improve achievement in third grade and get our kids off to a good start with all the other district and not lag behind,” Ms. O’Neill said.

Board member Adriana Ospina said she wanted a look at the individual schools to see their successes and explore how they can be translated to districtwide achievement. She acknowledged that what worked in one individual school might not work at another, but wanted to see an examination of that in future reports. And looking at potentially burdening teachers with initiatives, Ms. Ospina also wondered what the board was going to “stop doing that wasn’t working.”

Ms. Moriarty said people needed to remember the advice Mr. Curtin had given then many times that “one year does not a trend make” no matter if scores were going up or going down.

“We remember that much more easily when scores are going down but now that there’s an indication they’re going up we can’t lose focus on that,” Ms. Moriarty said. “We need to have sustained success. We’d like to understand what did we do. Is this several years of efforts finally showing results? This is something we have to look at in the weeks and months ahead.”

 

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