After scoring low on the Common Core-aligned state test last year, New Haven students averaged higher scores this year, improving more than the state average and than students in other struggling districts.
The state Department of Education released results showing 32.1 percent of New Haven students met literacy standards, and 18.5 percent met math standards, up 5 and 4.9 percentage points, respectively, from the previous year. Students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 took the test over the course of five weeks this past spring.
The city made some of the highest gains among Alliance Districts, the 30 lowest-performing in the state. Newhallville’s K-6 Lincoln-Bassett Community School was a standout among the state’s turnaround schools, struggling schools given extra resources through the state Commissioner’s Network.
Connecticut agreed to adopt the Common Core, national academic standards setting more rigorous benchmarks in English and math, aligned to the standardized Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam. New Haven switched to the new standards two years before the state requirement of 2015.
Click here to see the results for this year.
Click here to see state Department of Ed charts on that data.
Last year was supposed to be a test run. Though local education officials said that they expected low scores last year, they panicked when the results came out.
Board of Education members debated whether to double down on existing efforts or start anew with fresh approaches.
Teachers union leaders urged officials not to put too much stock in exam results as measures for student success, especially knowing students were adjusting to a harder test.
In an unprecedented move in the city, Mayor Toni Harp got herself elected president of the Board of Education last fall in the wake of the test score results. She released a 10-point plan to implement targeted interventions at the lowest-scoring schools, using money and support from the city and community.
Superintendent Garth Harries said Thursday that the partial rollout of the mayor’s plan was “absolutely a factor” in the testing gains. One of those initiatives, Saturday Academy, was intended to reinforce math and literacy skills using new technology and engage students in activities to promote social-emotional growth.
“We have looked to strengthen our reading work, and even more so going into this year,” Harries said. He said the results reflect “hard and deliberate work across the district.”
But the results also “highlight how far we have to go,” he said, even at schools that showed the most growth.
Fair Haven School students had the lowest percentage of students meeting or exceeding reading standards, at 10.8 percent, and math standards, at 3.8 percent. Troup School was second lowest in both reading and math, at 18.6 percent and 5.1 percent.
Worthington Hooker School students had the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding reading standards at 72.9 percent, and math standards, at 67 percent. Engineering & Science University Magnet School was second highest in reading at 57.35 percent of students meeting standards. West Rock Author’s Academy was second highest in math with half of students meeting standards.
Most Improved School
The state report highlighted one school in particular for massive gains on the test. Turnaround school Lincoln-Bassett had 19.6 percent of students meeting or exceeding literacy standards this year, up from 13 percent last year. It also went from single to double digits in math, with 16.4 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards, compared to 5.5 percent last year.
Principal Janet Brown-Clayton, who took over the school in a state-sponsored turnaround in 2014, said she is proud of the school’s improvement and knows the community has a long way to go. Since 2014, once under-performing Lincoln-Bassett has developed a comprehensive technology program and noticeably progressed at each state audit.
Brown-Clayton listed several factors that contributed to the gains: weekly team meetings where school staff analyzes student data, vertical team meetings allowing current teachers of students to speak with their former teachers, and effectively-used instructional time focusing on teaching and not filling out worksheets.
“We work feverishly to maintain student engagement,” Brown-Clayton said. “We want authentic instruction going on.”
School leaders will receive individual student score reports from the state in September and will then be responsible for making sure families receive and understand them. Superintendent Harries said he’s not sure how standardized that process was among schools last year. But this year, he’s going to “encourage schools to do what best works for their families.”
Brown-Clayton said she plans to send the reports home with students with their report cards. She also will thoroughly explain the test and the school’s overall averages to parents at an engagement night in September, giving them time afterward to talk specifics with their students’ teachers.