Education report card: Achievement gap lingers

Connecticut received its report card Thursday on how well its students are learning science, and it's not a pretty picture.

Scores from the U.S. Department of Education show that on national science tests, the achievement gap between low-income Connecticut students and their more affluent peers continues to be the largest in the nation. The gap between black and Hispanic students and their white peers is also one of the worst in the country.

"Our gaps have not closed. We are the worst in the country," said Renée Savoie, an official at the State Department of Education, which oversees these tests known as the "nation's report card."

Nationwide, white students' scores rose by 1 point, the scores of black students rose by 3 points, and those of Hispanic students went up by 5 points.

Whereas in Connecticut, white students' test scores rose by 1 point, black students' scores by 2, and those of Hispanic students went up by 3.

Of the 3,000 Connecticut students tested, the average score for a city student was 137 compared with 161 for suburban and rural students.

In November, the same gap was reflected for Connecticut students on national math and reading tests.

This report card comes two days after state legislators almost unanimously approved a sweeping education bill aimed at closing the gap. The education reform bill appropriates nearly $90 million in new money to improve the state's lowest-performing districts, most of which are urban.

"Our cities are performing significantly lower on many accounts... That's not new," said Savoie, who has worked at the state education department for 12 years. "We are not seeing the kind of movement we need to see and [that] other states have."

State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, the leader of the state's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, has called this difference in student achievement in Connecticut a longstanding "national embarrassment," while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, on numerous occasions, has referred to it as "civil rights issues of our time."

"Change ... is necessary. While the world changed, and while states around us changed, Connecticut stood still," Malloy told state legislators early Thursday, poised to sign the education reform bill.

"It's too soon to know if these changes will impact these differences in our students' achievement. It's all about implementation," Savoie said.

Malloy said at a Thursday afternoon press conference, "We have a whole new toolbox in education to bring about reform. Connecticut [has been] dead in the water."

"If properly implemented, our state will surge ahead of other states... The commissioner [of education] needs to implement, implement and then he needs to implement."