Connecticut students in grades three to eight boosted their scores in math, English and language arts while some Alliance Districts, including Meriden Public Schools, made significant gains.
Alliance Districts, which receive additional state funding, are the state’s lowest performing districts, serving a large number of students eligible for free lunch.
The results of the standardized Smarter Balanced Assessment test, which were released to the media Friday, showed improvement among high needs students, giving educators hope they could see a tightening of the state’s achievement gap. High needs students are those with disabilities and English learners.
“The high needs students picked up more ground,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the chief performance officer for the state Department of Education. “It’s heartening to see because we’re all working really hard.”
Math scores improved with 48.1 percent of state students meeting or exceeding targets. This marks a 1.3 percent increase over 2015-2016. About 55.7 percent of all students met or achieved targets in English/language arts. Gains were seen in fifth and seventh grade English scores, and fifth and seventh grade math.
The students taking the test were introduced to the Common Core standards in 2011 and are showing improvement in the middle schools, Gopalakrishnan said.
“Kudos to these teachers,” he said.
In 19 of the 33 Alliance Districts, there was higher proficiency in English/LA than the state average.
“Twenty one of the 33 (districts) showed improvements that were greater than the state,” he said. “That’s definitely a positive sign.”
Meriden’s English scores increased 7.5 percent over four years, putting it in second place among the Alliance Districts. Its math scores jumped 12.7 percent putting it fourth place among the Alliance Districts.
“Clearly these scores validate the hard work of students, staff and families,” said Mark Benigni, Meriden’s school superintendent. “We’re making significant progress and the gains we’ve made over the past four years puts us toward the top of the Alliance Districts. While these results are encouraging, I’m confident about future gains based on the progress made over past four years.”
Last month the state reported stagnant SAT scores for Meriden. At that time, Benigni said the district had been focusing much of its attention on the Common Core in the lower grades and administering the SAT test to more students. The improved performance in the lower and middle school grades should help bolster SAT results going forward, he said.
Cheshire and Southington saw modest gains in test scores, and are considered among the state’s top performers. But there were decreases in some districts. For instance, Wallingford saw a 3.6 percent drop in English/language arts and a 3.8 percent drop in math over the four years.
But it did receive an increase in its growth percentage, which measures a student’s individual growth year over year. Students in Wallingford met an average of 58.50 percent of their growth targets in English, up from 44 percent in 2015-16, and 56.40 percent of their growth target in math, up from 38 percent in 2015-2016.
”Growth looks at the growth of students across the spectrum,” Gopalakrishnan said. “It’s a good measure of how effective a curriculum is. Even a kid who is proficient needs growth.”
Wallingford Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Menzo said that 700 plus students have entered the district last year and this year and that there are also more students eligible for free and reduced lunch in the district. Menzo feels these factors lead to a discontinuity in some student’s instruction.
“This is an area of focus because there can be a gap in those students' prior educational experiences and those in Wallingford,” Menzo said in an e-mail. “That is why annual growth is important in providing us a snapshot as to how students perform year to year. Lastly, as always, the SBA is one indicator of student success. We use multiple measures to determine student success and that is also another reason why the growth measures are also important.”
Small SBA test gains were also seen in the statewide scores of students eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. Free lunch eligible students scores increased from 31.1 percent in 2015 to 34.8 percent in English/language arts. Among those students not eligible for free or reduced lunch, 70.3 met or exceeded goals in 2015-2016 climbing slightly to 70.9 in 2018 to 2019.
Among math results, 19.1 percent of free lunch students met or exceeded goals in 2015-2016. Math scores increased to 25.9 percent in 2018-2019.
”There are still some large gaps and they’re getting a little better, but we have more work to do,” Gopalakrishnan said.