City students show improved test scores



The Connecticut Mastery Test scores for 2002 are in, and while not every public school in New Haven reached the state goal, the city’s public school system saw significant improvements.

In a public announcement, Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo said New Haven public schools posted higher test scores at every grade level and in every subject for the first time ever. Earlier this month, the city Board of Education removed seven of New Haven’s 10 public schools from the state’s troubled list because of higher performance on the CMTs.

The Connecticut Mastery Tests are given every year to grades four, six and eight to test students in reading, writing and math. The state has set a benchmark index score of 40 for every school to meet.

Of New Haven’s 38 elementary and middle schools, 10 were previously on the state’s troubled list because they had failed to meet the standard index. However, Quinnipiac, Truman, Prince/Welch, Lincoln-Bassett, Vincent Mauro and Clinton Avenue elementary schools, as well as Fair Haven Middle School all achieved the state goal in 2002 and were removed from the list this month as a result.

The three schools that remain on the troubled list are Hill Central elementary school and Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente middle schools.

Although the leaders of these schools share the goal of improvement, their students can benefit from increased state attention by staying on the list. Schools on the list have access to extra funds, such as reading programs and computer resources, New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said. She said public schools face a complicated decision.

“Do you go for the psychological impact of getting off the list — which is deserved — or do you remain on the watch-list and still benefit from extra state resources?” she said.

Sullivan-DeCarlo said she has heard from several other districts in the same position, and some have suggested it is better to stay on the list and get those services.

She also questioned the government’s policy of relying on standardized testing to measure the success of every school in the state.

“The only consistent complaint that we’ve had all along is that shrinking everything down to a single test score doesn’t really tell you how well a student is doing,” she said.

Sullivan-DeCarlo said other factors can be used to assess a school’s performance, such as foreign language and reading competitions, and also attendance records. The tests do not necessarily account for bilingual students or those with special education needs, she said.

According to the announcement, new state guidelines require all students enrolled in bilingual education for 10 months or more to take the English language CMT. Furthermore, the announcement said a new federal law requires 80 percent of all special education students take the same exam as their other classmates.

The principal of Roberto Clemente, Leroy Williams, said he does not want to make excuses, but his school has more bilingual and special education students than many other schools. And, while Roberto Clemente is one of New Haven’s three schools to remain on the state’s troubled list, the percentages of its sixth-graders scoring at goal increased in all three subjects.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we are improving,” Williams said.

Hill Central’s principal, William Melbourne, said 67 percent of his students are English language-learners. Most of these students are Spanish-speaking, he said. Melbourne said his school also has a high number of special education students.

In addition to the diversity of students’ needs, Melbourne cited two more factors that can complicate a school’s average test scores. Some students move in and out of a school district, receiving different kinds of preparation, and the CMTs also test a new group of students every year.

To provide an adequate measure of schools’ success, Melbourne said the CMTs should follow the same group of students, looking to see whether they fare better taking the tests a second and third time.

While New Haven public schools continue to take steps to improve their standardized test scores — including adding extra reading time for middle-schoolers and stepping up faculty training — the CMTs are not the only issue on their agenda.

“We’re in a war right now, and that’s taking some minutes away from school,” Williams said.

In addition to academics, Williams said, teachers need to spend time talking with their students about safety and security.

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