Once again, the 2002 results of the state’s most sweeping standardized test have illuminated the glaring socio-economic disparities in Connecticut’s education system.
Statewide results on the Connecticut Mastery Test released Wednesday inched up from last year’s standings, and the performance gaps between different racial and economic groups closed slightly. But state and education officials said much work remained to improve scores overall, especially among Connecticut’s minority groups and in cities like New Haven.
An average of 60 percent of students in districts across the state met state goals, compared with an average of 30 percent in New Haven. The difference between white and nonwhite students’ results was as much as 50 percent on some tests. And girls consistently outperformed boys on the reading and writing tests.
“The gap between rich and poor, white and nonwhite, boys and girls is unacceptable,” Connecticut Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said. “It’s clear that has to be our priority.”
Murphy said that the gap between the performance of urban and nonurban areas had closed slightly but that the gains were “nothing to write home about.”
The state does not mandate any repercussions for districts that do not meet its goals, but education officials said they hope the information gained from the test will spur the improvements necessary to remedy the disparities between different groups of students.
“We are not closing the gap fast enough,” New Haven Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo said in a statement. “We can’t allow ourselves to become complacent, even as we have made slow but steady progress.”
Connecticut tests students in grades four, six and eight in reading, writing and math. Fifty-eight percent of fourth-graders, 64 percent of sixth-graders, and 66 percent of eighth-graders statewide met the reading goal. In writing, those numbers were 61, 60 and 59, respectively. And in math, they were 61, 61 and 55.
In New Haven, those numbers were significantly lower. In the reading test, 22 percent of fourth-graders, 29 percent of sixth-graders, and 33 percent of eighth-graders met the state’s goal. In writing, those numbers were 38, 32 and 34. In math, they were 35, 28 and 22.
These numbers follow the dismal results released at the end of last year from the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, which evaluates 10th-graders only. In New Haven, 20 percent of the students reached state goals in reading, 24 percent in writing, 13 percent in math, and 12 percent in science. And across the state, less than half of the 40,000 tested met state goals.
Both the state and the city of New Haven have come forward with strategies on how to address their existing achievement gaps.
The state is investing $20 million to improve early reading skills in its 16 poorest major school districts, including New Haven. Murphy said the drive to teach more students how to read was the state’s “most critical strategy.” Children in first, second and third grade are already taking reading tests so that schools have a running record of the students’ progress.
Connecticut is also spending $39 million to expand the number of pre-school spaces in its poorest major cities. Murphy said the push for more students in pre-school only started a few years ago. Since those students have not yet entered the fourth grade, any positive results from that investment are not yet visible.
New Haven’s major initiatives include hiring more reading tutors at schools, reducing class size, and looking to further involve parents and communities with the progress of students. And Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has made universal pre-kindergarten a priority for the city.
“We know we can do better, and we will,” Mayo said.