Carolyn Sacco

While new data shows that standardized testing scores slightly increased in New Haven Public Schools this year, the percentage of Elm City students performing at the proficient level continues to lag behind other districts in the state.

At Tuesday’s New Haven Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks presented the results from last year’s Smarter Balanced test, a standardized multistate test based on the Common Core curriculum administered to students in grades three to eight. According to the data published by the Board, over 33 percent of test-takers in New Haven were proficient in language arts and roughly 21 percent were proficient in math — compared to 55 and 46 percent respectively in Connecticut.

“Motivation for students is an area we have to spend time on, motivating and incentivizing them so they want to do work,” Birks said at the meeting. “We are going to look at some of [the high-performing schools] best practices and see how these can be scaled up into other schools.”

New Haven outperformed other cities in Connecticut, including Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury districts. In addition, roughly 58 percent of Elm City students met their targeted growth in scores. Just over 60 percent of all Connecticut students who took the test met the growth target this year. The percentage of students passing language arts in the district rose from 31 to 33 percent and from 20 to 21 percent in math from last year.

While Birks does not have a concrete plan to bolster the district’s future schools, she said that staff members from the district’s central office plan to visit schools on a quarterly basis to monitor any new initiatives. In addition, she mentioned the importance of improving students’ reading ability.

Board member Edward Joyner expressed excitement about the positive growth on test scores, adding that targeted instruction and academic pressure are important variables for improving student performance.

“The reason that teaching is harder now is because our kids are exposed to so much chaos and disruptive behavior,” he said, indicating that too many absences and behavioral issues in schools have evolved into an obstacle for teachers.

Mayor of New Haven Toni Harp said that she is optimistic about the test score growth — but that the Board should do more than simply monitor schools.

In January 2018, the board of education welcomed new members to the team: former Ward 15 Alder Joseph Rodriguez and pediatrician Tamiko Jackson-McArthur. Birks began her three-year term in March as superintendent. Board president Darnell Goldson told the News that he is hopeful about the possibilities for improvement following personnel changes on the Board. However, he expressed doubt that the test scores were representative of the actual abilities of students.

“I don’t think it represents our children’s greatness,” Goldson said. “It’s disheartening when these kids get a certain score on these tests. One snapshot, one day of their life could have been a bad day, they could have been sick and I don’t think it represents who our students are. But it represents who the state thinks they are, so we have to play the game until we find a better game.”

In addition to testing, board members discussed a proposal to reallocate funding towards new early childhood education classrooms this year — which would serve 30 more students at the Farnam Neighborhood House and the Friends Center for Children.

Birks said that funds for the expansion of these full-day preschool programs is possible because of school closures last spring.

The board of education meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Carolyn Sacco  | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu