On September 9, 2019, The Waterbury Republican-American published an article by Daniel Perle regarding recently released SBAC scores from the State Department of Education
WATERBURY — Waterbury schools saw a mixed bag of results from the 2018-19 state standardized test scores for grades three through eight, which were released Monday.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment, which has been the state’s standardized test since the 2014-15 school year, uses Common Core standards to measure student aptitude in English language arts and math. Waterbury’s overall numbers have remained well below state average since the test was adopted, but have risen over the years.
Waterbury Public Schools in a statement Monday said the district was happy with the results, which met many of the district’s goals but fell short on others, including not meeting the annual improvement goal for math.
The district overall saw 30.3% of its students pass the English language arts portion and 20.2% of its students pass the math portion, up 4.4 and 7.1 points from the 2014-15 school year, respectively. Despite this, both scores are more than 25 percentage points below the state averages.
“I think it tells us that the schools that met their goals in one area but not the other, have the basis for developing a real strategic plan to strengthen those areas of need,” School Superintendent Verna Ruffin said.
DISTRICTS SURROUNDING Waterbury fared better on the exam.
Cheshire saw 82.6% of its students pass in English language arts and 75.2% of its students pass in math. For Region 15 Region 75% of its students passed in English language arts and 70.8% passed in math. In Torrington, 44.3% passed in English language arts and 31.1% passed in math. In Wolcott, 71.8% passed in English language arts and 66.2% passed in math. Naugatuck was the closest to the state average, with 54.9% of students passing in English language arts and 48.9% passing in math.
High school juniors take the SAT for their state standardized test, which is the last chance districts and schools have to gauge their college and career readiness prior to graduation. Peter Yazbak of the state Department of Education said the Smarter Balanced Assessments allow education officials to see if students are “on track” to being college and career ready when they take the SAT.
SARAH WOULFIN, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, said the results are just one of many indicators to measure how education reform efforts are going. Woulfin said district and statewide officials need to make sure their priorities are aligned. Woulfin also worried about the differences which might arise between preparing high school students for the SAT and those in lower grades for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“It (the SAT) is aligned with Common Core standards in certain ways, but I think it’s also asking schools and teachers to prepare kids for the SAT versus continuing to teach the standards, I think that creates some sort of mismatch or conflict,” Woulfin said.
All three of the Waterbury district’s grades six through eight middle schools fared poorly, though North End did show year-to-year improvement in both subjects at all three grade levels. West Side was the worst of the three with just 25.3% of its students passing the English language arts portion and 9.5%, 93 of 986 students, passing the math portion.
Ruffin pointed to non-traditional middle schools getting better test scores than the three middle schools with just grades six-through-eight as a point for further study. Waterbury Arts Magnet School, which teaches grades six through twelve, fared better than all three, with seventh graders passing at a rate very close to the state average.
There was a significant drop off in math for last year’s eighth grade cohort compared to four years ago. In the 2014-15 school year the same cohort, then in fourth grade, saw 21.8% of its students pass the math portion. This year, just 11.8% of eighth graders district-wide passed, a 10% decline.
“Our district has not always focused on teaching the standards at the level of complexity for their appropriate grade levels,” Ruffin said. “We’re still working with our middle schools in providing something of substance where they know this is a line to Connecticut standards.”
Elementary schools saw an even wider variance between the best and worst performing schools. Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School was among the best. It outperformed the state average with 66.9% of its students passing the English language arts portion and 54.2% passing the math portion. Walsh was among the worst performing schools, with just 17.1% of its students passing the English language arts and 12.6% passing the math portion, including just four of its 62 fifth-graders.
“Walsh usually lags behind,” Karen Harvey, Vice President of the Board of Education, said. “We know kids can do well on the tests, it’s just a matter of making sure they have the resources they need.”
THE STATEWIDE RACIAL achievement gap surfaced in Waterbury as well. Of white students, 47.1% passed the English language arts portion of the exam while 35.1% passed the math portion. Comparatively, 26.2% of Latino students passed the English language arts portion and 17.1% passed in math, while 27.7% of black students passed the English language arts portion and 15.7% passed in math.
Subira Gordon, executive director of education reform group ConnCAN, said while the overall statewide results were promising, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“Generally, Black and Latino students, the fastest growing racial group in Connecticut, are not on grade-level, and thus, underprepared for college and career,” Gordon said via a press release. “ConnCAN believes this is fundamentally inequitable and unjust.”