Jay Lee

Three months after the Connecticut Department of Education released New Haven Public Schools’ Common Core test results, Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 and the Board of Education seek to improve results for the coming year.

Last spring marked the first time NHPS administered the Smarter Balanced Assessments, standardized tests in English Language Arts and mathematics aligned to Common Core standards. The results showed that just 29 percent of New Haven students in grades three through eight performed at or above the Common Core standard for ELA, while only 14 percent of students performed at or above grade level in mathematics. Statewide, 55 percent of students scored at or above achievement level for ELA and 40 percent scored at this level for mathematics. But Harries said he is hopeful that results will improve in the second year of testing. In an effort to improve test scores, the BOE has focused on teacher-training and internal professional development for school administrators.

“I think teachers have spent a lot of time understanding those results. I think they feel more confident in understanding what’s going to be tested,” Harries said. “I think it’s too early to say how different [upcoming] results will be, but certainly we are working hard to make sure results significantly improve.”

Harries said NHPS scored higher than other urban districts in the state. He added that the results of the tests improved as grade level increased, indicating that students are getting closer to reaching Common Core standards the longer they remain in the school system.

But, Harries said, improvement will be gradual because the implementation of Common Core standards is an ongoing process. He said the ultimate goal of the training is to ensure NHPS teachers are providing the highest quality and most personalized education possible to students.

“It is our challenge to ensure that all students can accelerate and actually meet standards of Common Core,” Harries said.

In response to last year’s results, which Harries called “unacceptable” in September, the BOE is pushing forth legislation to ensure NHPS administrators and teachers are better-equipped to prepare students for SBAC testing this year.

The BOE enlisted Area Cooperative Educational Services — an organization that works to improve public education in 25 member school districts across Connecticut — to provide monthly Common Core training to administrators and teachers. The agreement, which began Nov. 10 and will continue until June 30, will cost the school district up to $80,000.

“We in New Haven began to shift our curriculum a few years ago and have done a lot of internal professional development and used groups like ACES and national experts in order to support our transition to the Common Core,” Harries said.

Leslie Abbatiello, ACES’ director of professional development and school improvement, said ACES is collaborating with NHPS and other school districts in southern Connecticut by helping teachers implement high-quality instruction aligned to Connecticut Common Core standards.

She said since Common Core and SBAC testing is still new to New Haven educators, the BOE hired ACES as a proactive measure to build NHPS educators’ capacities to teach the new curriculum and optimize teaching efficacy.

“Learning around the Common Core becomes about professional development for good high-quality instruction, which is not a destination at which one ever arrives,” Harries said.

Jennifer Ricker, who serves on the steering committee of Citywide Parent Team, a coalition of NHPS parents dedicated to providing feedback to the district, said her elementary school-aged children have done well since NHPS aligned its curriculum with Common Core standards. She said she is a proponent of Common Core in NHPS, though she thinks implementation of standards could improve.

Connecticut adopted Common Core standards in July 2010.