Most school districts around greater Meriden are scoring above the statewide average, according to the latest round of school accountability results.
Those results are reported annually in the state Department of Education’s “Next Generation Accountability Index.”
The index rates school districts by giving them points indicating whether they met, exceeded or did not meet state targets in various areas, including achievement tests, attendance, graduation rates, college entry rates and physical fitness rates.
The statewide score declined slightly from the 2017-18 school year, when it was 74.9, to its 2018-19 score of 74.2 on a 100 point scale.
Overall, Meriden public schools have seen incremental improvement, with a score of 69.4 last year, up from 64.4 the prior year.
Wallingford public schools, whose scores have historically been within a percentage point above the state average, improved slightly to 75.9 over the prior year. Meanwhile, Cheshire public schools, with 84.5, scored more than 10 points above the state average. Southington public schools’ overall score was 80.1.
Meriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni said the latest scores show where the district is making gains and where improvement is needed.Closing gaps
Benigni noted the proficiency gap between the general student population and those considered “high needs” is shrinking. The group includes low-income students, those learning English and students with disabilities.
State data show 63.1 percent of all city students who took a state-administered English language arts exam last year achieved a proficient score, compared to 60.6 percent of high needs students.
Scores in both categories have improved incrementally. In 2016-17, 59.1 percent of all students achieved a proficient score on the same tests. That same year, 55 percent of high needs students received similar scores.
The city’s improved high school graduation rate was another bright spot. In 2018-19, 78.6 percent of city students graduated on time. It was a nine-percentage point improvement over the graduation rate from 2016-18.
Three city elementary schools earned “School of Distinction” designations based on improvement.
“We continue to see good gains at our elementary school level,” Benigni said.
Thomas Hooker Elementary School received a Category 2 designation and once again was named a “School of Distinction” for showing significantly improved math scores by high needs students. The school had received similar distinctions during the previous three school years.
Nathan Hale Elementary School was similarly recognized for efforts to improve English language arts as was Ben Franklin Elementary School.
“We're going to focus those same efforts on our secondary schools,” Benigni said.
The efforts include a consistent standards-based curriculum across the school district and keeping ninth grade students in high school on track to graduate on time.
“We’re also focusing on avoiding out-of-school suspensions, absenteeism and what we can do to keep kids in school and learning,” Benigni said. “Our teachers are doing a good job personalizing the learning for students.”More to be done
Despite the improvements, Meriden ranks within the lowest 33 performing school districts in the state, meaning it will continue to be considered an “Alliance District.”
The state uses a 1-to-5 scale, based on accountability results, to determine whether schools need additional support, including developing a possible turnaround plan. Benigni said the city no longer has any schools categorized as Level 4 or 5.
Washington Middle School was previously a Level 4 “Focus” school as recently as the 2016-17 school year, but since has been categorized as a “Level 3” school. Lincoln Middle School also maintained its “Level 3” categorization.
In greater Meriden, most schools generally fall within the Category 2 to 3 range. In Cheshire, Norton Elementary School was named a school of distinction for improvement in English Language arts and math. Meanwhile, Southington’s Kelley Elementary School received a similar nod. Both schools were were designated as “Category 1.”
In Wallingford, Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools both maintained their “Category 2” designations.
Benigni said Meriden schools overall made “more gains than the state,” but, “we're still trying to close those gaps.”Absenteeism
One of those gaps is student attendance. Chronic absenteeism, defined as students having missed 10% or more of school days in a given year, remains an issue.
To meet the state target, schools and districts must ensure that less than 5% of students were chronically absent, a rate that includes unexcused and excused absences, as well as suspensions.
Overall, 14.8% of Meriden students were chronically absent from class in 2018-19. A year prior, 15.1% of students were considered chronically absent, and 15.4% the year before. Improving student achievement in math and science is something educators will need to focus on, Benigni said.
“We'll continue to work hard to improve,” Benigni said. “I think these results validate the hard work of our students and staff.”