Meriden students in grades three through eight continue to show progress on statewide standardized tests, but the majority of those students still do not meet proficiency for their grade level in mathematics, English language arts.
The state this week released results of the 2017-18 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, a statewide standardized assessment done online.
Meriden showed the most improvement among all 190 districts statewide in math, with 34.8 percent of students reaching proficiency, up from 29.7 percent on the 2016-17 exam. The roughly 5-point jump represents a 17-percent improvement.
The number of Meriden students scoring proficient in English and language arts also rose last year from 37.9 percent last year to 43.9 percent.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni said the district is “excited and encouraged” by the improvements, but added the exam doesn’t tell the whole story.
“I caution everyone to look at this as one test, one measure,” Benigni said.
He attributed Meriden’s improvements to the hard work of students and staff, as well as the district’s efforts to integrate more technology into curriculum and focus on ways to motivate students.
In Wallingford, proficiency rates dropped for a second consecutive year to 50.3 percent in English and language arts and 41.7 percent in math. About 57 percent of Wallingford students performed proficiently in ELA in 2015-16, which dropped to 53 percent in 2016-17 and 50 percent this year. Math proficiency has also steadily dropped, from 46.6 percent in 2015-16 to 41.7 percent this year.
Math and ELA proficiency rates in Southington and Cheshire stayed roughly consistent with past years. About 68 percent of Southington students scored proficient or higher in ELA and 58 percent were proficient in math.
Cheshire had 78 percent and 68 percent of students proficient in ELA and math, respectively.
The state has administered SBAC exams annually since the 2014-15 school year. The assessments are aligned with the state’s Common Core Standards. Statewide, 55.3 percent and 46.7 percent of Connecticut students scored proficient in ELA and math respectively. Both rates represent slight increases from the previous year.
In addition to measuring students’ proficiency, each student is a given an improvement target to reach based on their previous testing results, said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the state Department of Education’s chief performance officer.
Students statewide recorded a “growth” percentage of around 60 percent, meaning the average student made about 60 percent of the anticipated improvement from the previous year. Gopalakrishnan said he would like to see that figure reach at least 80 percent.
Meriden students on average recorded growth percentages at just above the state average of 60 percent for both ELA and math. Wallingford students on average showed around 52 percent growth on both exams and Southington students posted growth in the high-50’s for both exams. Cheshire had the highest growth, at 70 percent and 67 percent in ELA and math respectively.
Wallingford School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo also believes the SBAC exams are only one component of assessing performance.
“Nobody has a performance review based on one moment in time, so we can’t measure our students at one moment in time, either,” Menzo said.
Gopalakrishnan agreed SBAC scores are one piece of a larger picture. “It’s not the only indicator by any stretch, but it is an important one,” he said.
Though Wallingford’s proficiency rates on the SBAC declined, Menzo said Wallingford also uses other standardized tests to assess students.
“Any time you have scores that aren’t progressing in the direction you’d hope, it makes you pause and reflect on what you need to do with staff and resources, but this is just one piece of that picture,” Menzo said. “... You want every score to be pointing in the same direction, but you have to look at it with a balanced approach. I don’t want to have an inappropriate level of concern, but I also don’t want to have an inappropriate level of apathy.”
Menzo added, “Even if these scores were off the charts, we’d still want to take a measured approach because you just want to make sure you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Southington School Superintendent Tim Connellan and Cheshire School Superintendent Jeff Solan did not return requests for comment Friday.
Benigni said Meriden’s improvements are an indication that the state’s Alliance District program, which allows underperforming districts to apply for additional state grants, is working. Meriden, one of roughly 30 districts in the program, outperformed several other districts in proficiency rates, including Stratford and East Haven. Among all 190 districts, Meriden finished in the top half in both math, 91st, and ELA, 89th.
Benigni said the additional state funds have offset a lack of funding increases from the City Council to the school board in recent years.
“Those additional state dollars have allowed us to be creative and innovative, and I think we’ve put that to good use and the state can be proud of its investment,” Benigni said.