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New Test Results A “Mixed Bag”
by Melissa Bailey | Jul 20, 2012 3:00 pm
Posted to: Schools, School Reform
Elementary schools inched one point closer to closing the achievement gap with the state, and high schools slipped backwards, as the city’s school reform effort failed to meet ambitious goals it set for standardized test scores.
Those results emerged in a press conference at the Board of Education Friday morning, as the New Haven Public Schools crunched standardized testing data released a day earlier by the state.
Officials praised some early signs of success, such as 11.1 percent gains in proficiency at the city’s first “turnaround” school, Brennan/Rogers School. On the other hand, scores went down at a turnaround school taken over by a private company, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy. (“Turnarounds” are low-performing schools that the city seeks to remake quickly with new principals and new rules.)
Officials also shared sobering news Friday about city high schools: Big gains touted last year at the city’s largest high school, Wilbur Cross, disappeared. And Cross and James Hillhouse High have made no real improvement in test scores over five years.
Overall, the announcement Friday marked a sobering contrast to the ambitious goal-setting and rosy test-score press pronouncements of past years, especially during last year’s mayoral election campaign. A press conference was planned for Friday afternoon, but it was replaced by a pared-down morning briefing after the state released the data early.
The scores come from the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which all public school students in grades 3 to 8 take in March, and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), taken by high school sophomores. The state reports the number of kids who score “proficient” and the number who score “at goal,” a higher standard that is considered to be the benchmark for doing grade-level work.
Click here to see CMT scores by school; click here to see CAPT scores; and here for some district-produced slides showing progress over the years. You can also search through all the data yourself at the state’s website.
The tests carry high stakes, both for how the federal and state government measures success, and for how New Haven’s local school reform drive, launched in 2009, measures its own success. New Haven set a goal to improve by 4.6 percent on the CMT and CAPT this year, in both proficiency and goal, as part of a reform effort aimed at closing the achievement gap between New Haven and the state by 2019.
Scores released this week showed the city falling short of that goal in each area: CMT scores rose by 2.0 percentage points in proficiency, and by 2.1 points at goal. CAPT fell by 2.3 points in proficiency, and rose by 2.3 points at goal.
“Growth has been incremental,” acknowledged schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo. “We’re looking for exponential” growth.
“From the start, we set aggressive goals,” said school reform czar Garth Harries. “We’re glad for the gains, but we clearly realize we need to accelerate more quickly to meet our goals.”
The scores matter also because because they are the main basis for how individual schools, teachers, principals and central office staff get graded each year according to the new reform drive. Test scores, combined with school climate surveys and other factors, determine which schools become “turnarounds,” and whether teachers and principals keep their jobs.
After last week’s press conference, when the teachers union president slammed the district for trumpeting small gains in school climate, Mayo offered a balanced report Friday.
He called the results a “mixed bag,” with “some excellent pockets.” The scores were “overall good,” especially in elementary schools over five years, but “not nearly good enough,” he said.
CAPT scores were “a little disappointing,” he said.
High School Stasis
The results leave New Haven kids between 16 and 28 points behind their statewide peers, depending on the test subject.
Overall, 66.5 percent of kids scored proficient on the CMT and 42.3 percent scored “at goal.” State scores climbed by 1.1 points in proficiency, so the district came one point closer to closing the achievement gap, which now sits at 17.5 percentage points. For the “at goal” standard, the gap now sits at 25.6 percentage points.
New Haven sophomores’ scores slipped from 61.9 to 59.6 points in proficiency on the CAPT, slightly widening the achievement gap with the state, to 22.6 percentage points. The gap in students scoring at goal narrowed by one point to 28.5 percent.
Friday’s press event represented a change in tone from last year’s, when Mayor John DeStefano was running for reelection and used the opportunity to trumpet gains in test scores, claiming an early successes only one year after he launched the school reform drive. One of the schools whose gains he highlighted last year saw those improvements evaporate this year.
Wilbur Cross, the city’s biggest high school, posted 8.7 percent gains in proficiency on the CAPT last year, climbing from 50.7 to 59.4 percent. School officials named Cross one of the top seven schools with the biggest gains and hosted their celebratory press conference there.
This year, Cross’s scores fell across the board in every subject, often by double digits, leaving them lower than 2010 levels. Scores fell from 59.4 to 46.0 percent in proficiency across all subjects. They fell and from 27.4 to 18.5 percent in goal across all subjects.
Scores at James Hillhouse High School fell by two points in proficiency, from 44.4 to 42.0; and grew slightly from the rock-bottom 9.9 percent in goal to 10.5 percent.
The long-term picture reveals a troubling view: Neither school has showed significant improvement over the course of five years. Scores either stayed flat or declined in most subjects. Click here for the detailed numbers.
Assistant Superintendent Harries said the two biggest high schools face extra challenges compared to the city’s seven smaller high schools. Students are much more transient and continue to join the school throughout the year. He said reform efforts under way at the two high schools have yet to take hold. Both Cross and Hillhouse received federal School Improvement Grants aimed at turning around the nation’s lowest performing schools. In 2010, they divided their schools into “small learning communities” aimed at giving students a more intimate setting where they can feel more connected to the school, and where teachers can better collaborate to help them learn.
The schools were divided into “houses” in the fall of 2010, but the smaller learning communities are “not fully operating,” Harries said, with the degree of cohesion that will make them successful.
Students are now getting used to a “block schedule,” with 90-minute periods, and will “hopefully reap the benefits of it next year,” predicted Assistant Superintendent Imma Canelli.
Smaller high schools fared much better on the tests, Harries noted.
The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center led the pack, shooting up from 83.9 to 90.7 points in proficiency, and from 36.6 to 55.9 points at goal.
Superintendent Mayo emphasized that elementary schools are showing steady improvement over the years, according to the tests. Tracking the same group of kids from 3rd to 8th grade shows their scores shot up by 36.1 points in reading, 9.1 points in math and 8.9 points in writing, according to charts the district provided.
Overall, the number of kids scoring proficient on the tests has risen from 64.3 to 69.6 percent in math, 46.4 to 63.6 in reading, 62.2 to 69.3 in writing, and 49.7 to 58 in science over the course of four years, since the science test was introduced, according to the district.
A Bright Turnaround Spot
Brennan/Rogers emerged as one success story this year, leading the district in growth. The school was tapped as the city’s first in-house turnaround school in 2010. Principal Karen Lott brought in a crop of new teachers and set about overhauling the long-time failing school.
The first year showed “disappointing” scores, Lott acknowledged Friday. The second year showed marked improvement: The number of kids scoring proficient jumped from 43.3 to 54.4 percent; and the number scoring at goal rose from 22.3 to 28.5 percent.
Lott said the school has succeeded in improving its culture enough that kids want to stay, which solved the problem of kids leaving the school, especially between 2nd and 3rd grades. She credited collaborative and teacher-led efforts to crunch data and help each individual kid learn.
The results, she said, are a “validation” of the turnaround work that’s been done so far. “It’s bringing to light what we believe about our students—that they can excel, that they’re capable.”
“We created a culture of expectations and we held them to it,” said 6th-grade teacher Kimberlee Henry, whose kids showed dramatic gains. She said last year, students “had abilities that weren’t reflected in their test scores.”
This year, she focused on tons of independent reading. A new teacher, she joined her colleagues in analyzing kids’ reading and math tests in August, before she even met her kids, to come up with individual plans. When they showed up, she put them to work.
“We were hard on them,” Henry said. “We rode them every day.”
She said she can’t wait to see her kids again to celebrate. “I’m just so proud of them,” she said.
Overall, three turnaround schools—Brennan/Rogers, Wexler/Grant, and Hill Central—ranked in the top ten most-improved schools this year, according to the district.
Clemente Scores Decline
One larger turnaround school, taken over by a private company last fall, saw scores decline. The school district hired Renaissance School Services LLC out of New Jersey to take over management of Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy last year at a cost of $800 per student. The school has unionized teachers and 570 students, who are sent to the school based on where they live. It’s much bigger than Brennan/Rogers, which has 360 students.
Renaissance was tasked with improving a school that had sat on the federal watch list for failing schools for nine years. It pledged to lift the school off of that list within two years.
In the first year, Clemente posted declines in every subject at “goal” level, and in every subject except science in “proficiency.” Overall, scores dropped from 44.9 to 42.1 percent in proficiency and from 22.4 to 18.6 percent at goal.
School district officials said they hope Clemente will mirror a pattern at Brennan/Rogers, which saw a mixed results in the first year, while it was focusing on improving school climate, then gains on tests in its second year.
Reached by phone, Renaissance CEO Rich O’Neill stood behind the work his company has done so far at the school. He recognized the school has fallen short of its goal of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a federal benchmark for improvement in failing schools, in the first year. (The feds aren’t using that benchmark anymore in Connecticut, but Renaissance uses it for internal purposes.)
The scores are “not what we want to see, but we’re not concerned about it,” he said. “I feel great about the progress the school has made.”
“So much of the battle has been about school culture,” O’Neill said. He said observers have noted, and school climate surveys have affirmed, that there is more learning going on, and the environment has improved. O’Neill said he has overseen turnaround schools that meet AYP after one year, but Clemente had a particularly “negative” school culture, so there was a lot of work to do.
O’Neill said the pace of instruction picked up a lot in January. “We think the school is on a good path, and we expect the school to show significant improvement next year.”
Teachers union president Dave Cicarella, who boycotted a press conference last week that he said overstated the amount of improvement in school climate, did show up at Friday’s press conference.
“The overall growth is relatively small, but that’s true overall in the state,” he noted. “The fact that it’s overall trending up is good. We’re really looking to accelerate the growth.”
Tags: CMT, CAPT, Connecticut Mastery Test, Connecticut Academic Performance Test, Reggie Mayo, New Haven Public Schools
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As I recall so well, last year the mayor gloated that Wilbur Cross had “kicked as__” on the CAPT. I also remember some very interesting changes in the number of test takers that year, with a very significant reduction in the number of minority students in grade 10. Why? We never learned, but I am highly suspicious that that is the reason for the improved scores.
This year, what will the mayor’s comment be? Mr. Harries is being kind in saying that the SLCs at Cross are not yet fully functioning. I would ask him a simple question: Given the $2.1 million federal grant that the school has had for the past two years, why aren’t the SLCs working? There has been no shortage of consulting help.
I’d ask another question: If SLCs are supposed to afford students individualized attention, why was attendance so bad this past year? It was below 83%, which is no better than it was before the grant.
What do the taxpayers have to show for the money? If it isn’t working, why not? Who needs to do things differently? We can’t put all of this on the teachers.
All the school reform efforts that money can buy will turn out to be an utter failure if neighborhood poverty conditions are not addressed.
First and foremost, this means improving housing conditions. Nobody is going to invest in our housing if it is sitting next to dilapidated and trash strewn parks (like the Board of Ed’s Career High School), widened highways (like Route 34, Whalley Avenue, etc), or streets with no street trees. Until that is fixed, we can write those areas off forever. We also need to go much more strongly after slumlords, foreclosures, and blight, and create regional affordable housing like what was used for 360 State Street.
Second, addressing poverty means connecting residents to jobs. The biggest barrier to jobs access is transportation, by a wide margin.
Unfortunately, the Board of Aldermen Leadership recently voted against a design for better buses and transit, that was almost entirely funded by the state and federal government. This was a direct vote against lower income residents, and will permanently cripple any efforts to improve school performance in this city.
The new BOA apparently represents a suburban workforce that wishes to have more highways, not more ways for residents who live here to get to jobs. Test scores have been dropping for decades. They will continue to decline at about the same rate that our bus service continues to be cut back.
A “jobs pipeline” is a distant third place priority, but it is not the one that the Aldermen envision. Without addressing the two core issues above, our leaders are accepting the status quo - destroying any potential for a “jobs pipeline” that actually impacts the neighborhood residents in our city, and thereby ensuring that our schools will continue to fail.
How did the Achievement FIrst run Amistad Academy perform????
Or are they still crunching the numbers…....
Is anyone studying how to take some of the strategies they use at Sound School to improve student skills at the other schools? Seems to me they should be!
@Bill - Sure helps when schools like Amistead can deem problematic students “not a good fit” after implementing behavioral and academic strategies, and reinforcing its mandated student-parent contract. Students who don’t behave according to expectations, and those of parents who fail to realize their part of the contract, find themselves back in NHPS. Gee, I suppose that’s just a coincidence?! It couldn’t be because unrelenting pressure to conform or leave was placed on the student and his/her parents by Amistead. If Amistead was so great, it would keep those students instead of pressuring them to leave.
@katayers—You are right. In fact, I’d like to see Sound School teachers work in some of this city’s toughest schools to “show us” how it’s done. I give you all exactly one day before you go running back to Sound!
Believe me, I am on your side of the fence with the Charter Schools and Achievement First. I look at it as nothing more than a corporate take over of public schools in an effort to develop ‘desireable’ (read :compliant) low level managers for future McJobs in an an ultra-depressed economy.
Afterall, Walmart is the major funder for Achievement First’s recent agressive expansion. How can this ruse be anything else?????
Bill and Jacques: Those numbers are almost completely irrelevant. The New Haven press conference completely missed the mark.
“Without attending to the disparities that exist in our highly favored state, school reform will not reach its mark, and inequality will persist for many children based on the color of their skin or where they live….. To improve the educational attainment of all students—and the life opportunities of all residents—Connecticut policymakers and administrators must understand this is more than an issue of achievement test scores and fiscal accountability.”
We have posted the full NHPS Press release along with some helpful charts attached at the end of the release which can be accessed through the link below. All schools are listed as are the combined District results.
You can also simply go to http://www.nhps.net and check out the story and documents there.
Kudos the the students and teachers who doubled the state gains for the third year in a row.
Progress continues on many levels and we continue to outpace our urban peers but there remains much work to do to reach our goals.
We can and will reach them together.