While some New Haven schools were recently ranked at the top of the class, the district as a whole is far from receiving straight A’s.

Four New Haven public schools were awarded spots on top-10 lists by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a statewide outreach, education and research center that released 2008 report cards for Connecticut public schools last week. But overall, Elm City schools fared poorly, with a significant portion of the districts’ students achieving below goal levels in every educational category ConnCAN examined.

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Among New Haven schools, two magnet schools — King/Robinson Magnet School and Vincent E. Mauro Math, Science & Technology Elementary Magnet School — and two charter schools — Elm City College Preparatory’s elementary and middle schools and Amistad Academy’s middle and high schools — were each named to top-10 lists.

ConnCAN rated schools on the basis of student performance gains, overall improvement and success in bringing black, Hispanic and low-income students within their respective goal ranges. The organization evaluated approximately 1,000 elementary, middle and high schools based on the Connecticut Mastery Test for grades three to eight and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for grade 10.

Still, New Haven public schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, ConnCAN’s reports show. Only between 25 and 50 percent of Elm City elementary and middle schools were at or above goal levels for overall student achievement in 2008 — a low rank shared by only about 15 school districts out of Connecticut’s 169. For New Haven high schools, that percentage is 25 percent or lower.

New Haven Board of Education member Richard Abatiello said some schools struggle despite strong leadership if, for example, they have more behavioral problems among their students, or they have more English as a Second Language students.

Abbatiello, who said he has not seen the reports yet, said he thinks the reason for some schools’ success is direction from principals who foster a sense of collaboration among teachers and, as a result, see better results in the classroom.

“I think if you look at the schools and you were there, you would see a big part of [their success] has been the leadership,” Abbatiello said of the four schools that ConnCAN recognized.

Elm City College Prep Middle School Director Marc Michaelson, for one, said he aims to encourage a “culture of learning” in which every child is given the opportunity to succeed.

Teachers use data from periodic assessments to evaluate students’ progress, and the administration seeks out exceptional teachers and trains them extensively before each school year, he said. The aim of the school’s instruction, Michaelson said, is to achieve not simply “coverage” of their curriculum but “mastery” of it.

“We believe that if you provide excellent instruction, all students will achieve great things in school,” he said.

Rather than finding excuses for poor student performance, Michaelson said, his staff holds itself accountable and makes appropriate adjustments.

For example, he said, when teachers identify struggling students at the school, those students are offered a class period for small-group instruction.

In a lecture at Yale on Friday as a part of the Social Policy Lecture Series sponsored by the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, ConnCAN Executive Director Alex Johnston identified the achievement gap between low- and high-income students as the crux of Connecticut’s educational troubles. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap between poor and non-poor students of all 50 states, Johnston said.

He proposed that the city expand access to high-quality pre-schools, create new public schools and recruit of enthusiastic, capable teachers and principals. At the same time, Johnston emphasized the need for city and, in particular, state funding.

Although Abbatiello said the Board’s power to appropriate funds to public schools is limited by the city’s current budget crunch, the school district will adjust by working more efficiently with what resources are available, he said. He suggested an emphasis on developing existing staffs in schools, for example.

“Nothing profound,” he said. “Everyone just has to continue to work. … Everybody has to pull their wagon.”