After pandemic, Cheshire assessing lower SAT scores

CHESHIRE — Impacts of the pandemic on students might not be known for some time.

Many students struggled with remote learning, while others thrived. This discrepancy is beginning to show in the most recent SAT data, where local students scored, on average, much lower than normal. 

“We all know that the 2019-2020 year was a odd year for SAT data,” said Board of Education member Faith Ham at a meeting late last month. “Dr. Mary Gadd (Cheshire High School Principal) presented the SAT scores for students for the last year and they were a bit concerning.”

According to the data Gadd presented to the school board, just over 73% of juniors scored 480 or above for English, reading, and writing, placing Cheshire third to last out of 18 districts in its reference group of similar school districts. In math, 40% of Cheshire students scored 530 or above, placing Cheshire second to last in the group.  

“(During the curriculum meeting) we discussed some efforts going on in the (high) school, as Dr. Gadd pointed out that this does not seem to reflect what is going on day-to-day,” Ham said. 

“Just looking at the numbers, even if we skip last year, the ‘COVID-19 year,’ our numbers dropped a lot” stated fellow Board member Tim White. “Within our DRG-B group from 2019, we were placed fourth for English, and now we’ve dropped to 15th, and our math dropped from 12th (place) to 17? Do we have any idea of what’s going on here?”

Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan said it’s hard to compare student test score data from year to year because there are a lot of variables.

“Each year, there are different groups of kids so it’s hard to compare. This is why we often use cohort data and look for trends over time,” Solan said. “For English, reading and writing, if we had scored five points higher we would’ve been in eighth place.”

Solan explained that the district sees a high need for substantial improvement in math scores overall.

“What we’ve done is really focused on coaching. We had a curriculum writing institute come in and look at our planning and our curriculum to make sure we’re in line,” he said. “As you all know, part of the ‘bounce forward’ plan is to hire more support at the middle and high school level. In addition, we’ve spent a lot of time training coaches in our current staff to be able to coach peers to support student learning.”

Solan went on to explain that the district does not want to have a knee-jerk reaction and change the entire curriculum based on one year’s data, but his team is looking at more long-term solutions to these issues. 

“The math interventionist is providing direct student support with the coach, where it’s more effectively done to support both teachers and students,” said Assistant Superintendent Marlene Silano. 

“When I see the scores dip as low as they have, I am thinking the issue here is more than just the student body, right?” asked White. 

Solan answered that he did not want anyone to assume he was blaming the poor scores on the students, but that it makes more sense to look at the test scores in a cohort manner, since the data does not represent the same groups of students over time. 

“I will say, on a personal note, I know it was hard for my daughter last year to do the SATs,” added Board of Education chair Tony Perugini. “I know she probably didn’t get as much coaching or preparation as my daughter who graduated a year earlier, primarily because of what was going on.”

Perugini and White both expressed overall frustration with standardized testing in general and agreed that there should be some other way of determining college readiness. 

“There are ways to ‘game’ the test and that doesn’t at all reflect on the data,” White said. “That’s one of my biggest issues with standardized testing.”

It was also brought up by Silano that this testing data does not take into account students who have taken the SATs more than once and have scored higher. This data only refers to one instance, although many students take the SATs multiple times to get higher scores.

Conversely, for younger elementary-aged students who took the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), Cheshire students placed fifth best overall in Connecticut.

“Smarter Balanced Assessments are only a part of our overall performance, but they are the only measure that allows us to compare performance against six grades of students (grades 3-8) from across the state,” Solan told The Herald. “But, as you can see, our performance is exceptional. When you look at (the reference group) and see that we are only outperformed by communities that are among the most affluent in America and spend significantly more money than we do, it is something to be proud of. … It is a real testament to the work of our students, teachers, administrators, staff, Board of Education, and families that we are able to have that very impressive performance.”

In English, 77% of students scored a three or above, which puts them in sixth place in the state, and second place for the district group.  For Math, 68% of students scored a three or above, also placing them at sixth place in the state and second in the district group.

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