On August 5, 2019, The Waterbury Republican-American published an article by Michael Puffer regarding recently released SAT scores from the State Department of Education

WATERBURY — Only four of 221 Wilby High School juniors who took the state’s standardized test this spring have the math skills to put them on track for college or a career.

On Monday the state released performance data on the SATs taken by 11th-graders this spring. The state has used this college entrance exam as its standardized test for the past four years, an indicator as to how well districts and individual schools are preparing students for college and work.

This is not acceptable. These scores are not acceptable. We need to work together to figure out what we can do to improve. — Board of Education President Elizabeth C. Brown

There have been a few prominent shifts up and down among Waterbury’s five large public high schools. Overall, however, there is little change over the past four years.

“This is not acceptable,” Board of Education President Elizabeth C. Brown said Monday. “These scores are not acceptable. We need to work together to figure out what we can do to improve.”

Brown and other district officials say they have reason to be optimistic, however.

There are high hopes placed in Superintendent Verna Ruffin, who took the helm of Waterbury schools at the start of last school year. Mayor Neil M. O’Leary has praised Ruffin as a skilled, no-nonsense leader able to rise above politics and entrenched ways of doing things to make needed change.

Brown, along with central office staff, stressed there’s new leadership heading to Wilby High School.

Former Wilby Principal Carey Edwards resigned in July after two years at the school. The district is seeking a replacement. Ruffin has also transferred former Wallace Middle School Principal Michael LoRusso and former Waterbury Arts Magnet School Principal Lauren Elias to Wilby to as “principals on special assignment” to support improvement efforts.

Chief Academic Officer Darren Schwartz noted the Board of Education adopted new math and ELA curriculum for high schools two weeks ago. It will be supported with staff training, he said. District leaders will pay close attention to ensure it’s followed, he said.

Schwartz said district leaders expect to see gains in middle school standardized test scores when they are released later this year. It’s something he attributes to recently adopted
curriculum in those grades. He believes the same dynamic will play out with new high school curriculum.

WATERBURY CAREER ACADEMY saw a jump of more than 10 percentage points in its ELA performance year over year. It very nearly reached the state average. On the other hand, the Waterbury Arts Magnet School experienced nearly as large a decline in ELA. Both schools saw little change to the percentage of student hitting math targets.

Districtwide, Waterbury had 9.7% of its high school juniors meet or beat the state’s math targets in 2016. Three years later, 9.7% hit the math target this spring. The percentage of students hitting English language arts targets actually dropped a little in the same period, from 33.6$ in 2015-2016 to 28.5% this past spring.

The statewide scores are significantly higher than Waterbury’s, but have also seen little change over four years. The achievement gap is remains massively wide.

It might be that the “low-hanging” fruit, the easiest gains, were accomplished early in the education reform push, said Sarah L. Woulfin, an associate professor with the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.

“It might take more radical restructuring and thinking about teaching and how kids learn,” Woulfin said. There’s been “tinkering” with instruction and special needs services, but comprehensive restructuring “does not appear to have fully occurred yet,” she said.
“That might explain some of the stagnation,” Woulfin said.

Woulfin said some try a “reform soup” approach of changes year after year. A narrower focus on a few key priorities would yield better results, she said. Uniform curriculum across a district can also help, she said.

In Waterbury, Schwartz said part of the district’s new high school curriculum push will be to ensure students are receiving the same lessons for the same classes no matter which school they attend.

SUBIRA GORDON, executive director of education reform group ConnCAN, said Connecticut residents are too accepting of the long-standing achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.

“I understand you can’t change these things overnight, but I also can’t understand no change,” Gordon said. “If we are investing all these resources into schools that need more help, we should see some accountability tied to those resources.”

Gordon said Connecticut needs to confront racial inequities feeding into generational poverty and underperformance to truly make an impact.

“I don’t know how we are OK with this as a state,” Gordon said. “I don’t see people saying this is a crisis. It has to become a priority.”


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