At a Monday Board of Education meeting, city officials — exploring methods to improve test scores at New Haven’s lowest-performing schools — drew a blank.
The Smarter Balanced assessment, adopted last year by the state to track student progress toward the national Common Core standards, showed that just 29 percent of New Haven students are either at or above the Common Core standard for English Language Arts, while less than 14 percent are at or above this standard in mathematics. Though meeting attendees did not reach a consensus on how to address the achievement gap indicated by the test scores, city administrators said the test results should motivate school systems to tackle holes in their curricula.
“The Smarter Balanced results are a wake-up call for the city and for the school district,” Garth Harries ’95, New Haven Public Schools superintendent, said.
According to the New Haven Independent, board members in attendance discussed whether the best solution was to invest in existing efforts, change tact completely or adopt a combination of both when pursuing proactive change. Additionally, attendees discussed the implications of test results reported by charter schools in the city, which saw significantly higher scores across the board.
The state Board of Education replaced the former statewide standardized test — known as the Connecticut Mastery Test — with the Smarter Balanced assessment following Connecticut’s adoption of the Common Core standards.
The new assessment — administered in May to students in grades three through eight, as well as 11th graders — yielded scores much lower than the CMT. But this change largely reflects the increase in Connecticut’s academic standards, according to Elizabeth Carroll, director of Education Studies at Yale. She added that the Smarter Balanced assessment is also more challenging than the CMT.
“It’s a painful transition anytime you’re raising a standard,” Carroll said. “The generation that’s kind of stuck in that transition has to go through this process.”
The Common Core, officially launched in 2009, was partly a response to the United States’ decline in global education rankings. It was also implemented to reduce inequalities within the U.S. education system.
On average, students from high-income families significantly outperform students from low-income families, with bilingual and ethnic-minority students consistently testing below the national average.
Despite being one of the highest-performing states in the country, Connecticut has the biggest achievement gaps, Carroll said.
New Haven’s scores were comparable to those in other urban centers of Connecticut, including Hartford and Bridgeport. But students at higher-income suburban schools received significantly higher scores.
Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCAN, a statewide education advocacy group, said many steps need to be taken to resolve these issues, such as improving early childhood education, supporting strong teachers, principals and district leaders. She also recommended improving the way schools are funded.
“There’s no clear or mathematical explanation for why kids in some towns get more money than others,” Alexander said. “We’ve got about 11 different ways that we fund kids … It makes no sense.”
Alexander said the state should continue to implement the Common Core standards so that all students can receive an education that will effectively prepare them for college and working life.
But some displayed concerns about the testing that has come with this new national standard.
Yasamin Sharifi ’19, who attended a public school in Florida that did not use the Common Core standard while she was enrolled, said the number of standardized tests her school still made students take detracted from her educational experience.
“[At my school] we just had to quickly learn a bunch of material so we could take tests,” Sharifi said. “A lot of [Yale students] who came from private schools got to spend more time doing qualitative learning activities like writing papers, doing long term projects.”
Still, the Common Core allows schools flexibility in their teaching style. Schools’ main requirement is to aim for the program’s general standards.
Darryl Brackeen Jr., Upper Westville alder and community organizer for ConnCAN, urged people not be discouraged by the city’s low Smarter Balanced scores. Instead, he said the scores represent the beginning of a shift in the public education system.
“This is literally the beginning of a process in terms of how better to execute and implement teaching standards,” Brackeen said. “I believe that the New Haven school district is on its way toward leading the pack in terms of making sure that students are college and career ready.”
Next year, 11th-graders in Connecticut will take the SAT in place of the Smarter Balanced assessment.