New Haven Public Schools’s latest batch of testing data proved to be a mixed bag, marked by sustained improvement at two elementary schools and wide disparities in achievement at four high schools.
In a state data dump Friday afternoon, judging schools on a dozen indicators — ranging from test scores and graduation rates to art classes and physical education — New Haven picked up about two-thirds of the Next Generations Accountability Report’s available points, marking only a slight decrease from last year.
Notching 864 points out of a possible 1350, the city came up short compared to the rest of the state, which earned 989 points total.
But that performance generally mirrored the rest of the state, said Will Clark, the district’s chief operating officer. Among poorer, urban districts like Hartford and Bridgeport, Elm City schools beat out the rest of the pack.
Clark noted that New Haven outpaced the state’s gains in several categories, including in the number of students marked chronically absent, high school upperclassmen enrolled in advanced courses and freshmen on track to graduate. “By focusing on attendance, physical and emotional health and by supporting an academic and college-going culture New Haven students are more available to learn and are taking advantage of the academic opportunities available to them,” he said.
He added that administrators are still reviewing the data, and he cautioned against relying exclusively on one number to evaluate a school. “This high-stakes test and data report, while required by the state, is by no means the only measures used to track the academic growth of our students,” he said. “It is merely one of many factors to consider.” He said that a “deeper review of this data” can confirm which areas remain a challenge and which successes should be replicated district-wide.
At individual schools in New Haven, results varied.
Quinnipiac Real World STEM and John S. Martinez, two grade-school magnets, were both among the 16 schools removed from the state’s watch list of schools where high-needs students had previously underperformed their peers. This year marked the first chance for “focus schools” to move off the list. Another 79 schools remain under state scrutiny, including Beecher, Brennan-Rogers, Truman and Wexler-Grant.
The state also flagged achievement gaps at six New Haven schools that were far outside the average. Those warnings were attached to four high schools, Wilbur Cross, Hill Regional Career, High School in the Community and Sound, as well as two elementary schools, Edgewood and King-Robinson Magnet. At Cross, gaps in test scores also translated to a gap in graduation rates, the state noted.
Reggie Mayo, the interim superintendent, said he was “proud” of the results at Martinez and Quinnipiac, earned “through the hard work of the students, school leaders, staff and parents.”
Under a revamped system, introduced two years ago, the state measures academic achievement in two ways: Do students meet the cut-off for proficiency in their core subject areas? And are they learning more each year, even if they still can’t pass the test?
Using both indicators gives a more accurate picture of how students are learning each year, said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the state’s top school data chief.
“Different kids start in different places. The expectation isn’t that magically a student performing at the lowest levels will be at the highest levels in one year. We set the growth targets such that students generally get to proficiency in five years,” he told reporters in a phone call. “It’s not about chasing short-term wins, not about testing and how they do. It’s getting back to core instruction, helping teachers make sure they know what standards they’re expecting kids to do.”
By the first indicator, demonstrating strict proficiency, 56.8 percent of New Haven’s students meet basic standards in reading; 49.9 percent, in math; and 44.2 percent in science. Those numbers were about even with last year, with a half-percent gain in math and a half-percent loss in reading.
High-needs students (defined as those who have a learning disability, speak another primary language or come from a low-income family) lagged behind their peers by 14.6 points in reading, 13.5 points in math and 12.4 points in science. As a category with its own points, the state’s model dings New Haven for this gap.
By the second indicator, demonstrating annual growth, 53.0 percent of New Haven’s students hit their targets in reading and 52.9 percent did in math. The city saw a huge drop here, losing more than 10 points in both categories.
(Due to high mobility, 70 city test-takers weren’t in one school for the entire academic year, which officially starts in October; they are not included in the district’s calculations but they do factor into the state’s.)
Could the missed growth targets be an early sign that fewer students will test proficient in upcoming years? “I think it’s too early to go there,” Gopalakrishnan said, “because I’m really hopeful that this cycle we are going to see better numbers and growth results.”
The state also looks at students’ readiness to succeed after high-school graduation. First, they ask about access: Do juniors and seniors have the ability to sign up for advanced coursework or vocational training? In New Haven’s high schools, 61.7 percent of upperclassmen enrolled in at least two college-level courses or took two workplace training courses — a boost of nine points over last school year.
Then, the state examines whether those lessons adequately prepare students for the tests. (They do not currently include any points for students who gain an industry certification) Only 18.1 percent of upperclassmen scored 3 or higher on the Advanced Placement test (out of 5) or 1010 or higher on the new SAT (out of 1600), a slight improvement of 1.4 points over last year.
Getting to Graduation
All those factors lead up to whether students are actually earning a diploma. The state looks at five factors related to exiting the public school system: how many students show up for class, how many are on track to graduate, how many finish after four and six years, and how many pursue higher education.
Experts have found chronic absenteeism is a strong predictor for drop-outs.
Districtwide, 18.3 percent of New Haven’s students miss at least one-tenth of the school year. That marks a drop of 1.6 points from last year’s total, but it’s still nearly twice the state average of 9.9 percent. New Haven’s high-needs students are also less likely to show up for class, with a chronic absenteeism rate at 20.7 percent, a figure that also went down 2.2 points from last year’s total.
By the end of their first year of high school, 87.1 percent of New Haven’s last class of freshmen earned five credits or more and didn’t fail a core subject. The state considers them on track to graduate. That’s five points higher than the last class.
For the last class of seniors, 77.5 percent graduated within four years. For the subset of high-needs students, whom the state gives more time to finish their studies, 80.4 percent graduated within six years. Altogether, 65.3 percent matriculated to post-secondary education within a year of graduation
Those figures compare to a statewide graduation rate of 87.4 percent for all students within four years and 82.0 percent for high-needs students within six years. Statewide, 72.0 percent of seniors go on to college.
Factoring In School Offerings
New Haven racked up points this year on two last indicators that expand a school’s offerings: physical fitness and arts access.
Those categories have been included in an effort to widen the idea of what schools should offer, Gopalakrishnan said. “We’re not just talking about test scores anymore,” he said. “It’s gotten many more people involved, not just the reading and math teacher. It’s about changing that conversation, getting more people around the table to talk about all these things that lead up to whether we make academic improvements.”
Almost all New Haven’s students, 93.2 percent, participated in some physical fitness program last year, marking an 11.7-point increase over last year. With those classes, 40.9 percent were able to pass a four-part test of good health, including muscular strength, endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, marking a 4.3-point increase over last year.
Nearly half of New Haven’s high schoolers, 45.7 percent, participated in at least one dance, theater, music or visual arts course last school year, dropping 2.1 points from last year and trailing a bit behind the state average of 50.5 percent.