Achievement gaps linger between students from low-income families and their peers

The results are in on how nearly 300,000 public school students did on standardized tests this spring — and the big achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers remains largely unchanged since last year.

“Significant gaps in achievement continue between economically disadvantaged students and their peers,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said when releasing the results late Thursday.

Major disparities on math, reading and writing tests among black, Hispanic and white students also persist.

For example, the number of 10th-graders proficient in science, reading and math was 30 percent larger than proficient black and Hispanic students.

For years the state has had the embarrassing distinction of having the nation’s largest achievement gaps between black, Hispanic, white and low-income students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the state’s largest teachers’ union, was quick to ask parents and policymakers not to put too much weight on the test results.

“Reflect on the over-reliance on standardized test scores that characterizes our school system,” reads his statement, released minutes before the results were released to the public. “State test scores are not the sole indicator of student academic growth and development or teacher effectiveness.”

High-stakes testing?

In the era of the No Child Left Behind law, these test results meant schools that didn’t improve could lose federal funding and would have to offer their students seats in a nearby school.

That is no longer the case now that the state has received a waiver from those requirements.

“Connecticut’s waiver lifts these sanctions and instead… provides new mechanisms for low-performing districts and schools to get the resources and support they need to improve student achievement,” the announcement reports.

Included in the state’s waiver and in a recently approved state law, these test scores will identify the state’s 30 worst districts, the lowest-achieving schools, and schools with certain demographics whose achievement is lagging far behind other students. A list of the worst districts — known as Alliance Districts — has been released, but not the list of the 10 percent worst-performing schools.

Schools and districts identified in these lists are subject to significant state intervention and additional funding revenues.

Concern has been expressed by some education advocates that these ratings are not an accurate reflection of performance since some districts exempt significantly more students from taking these exams in the first place. Over the previous five years, the number of students identified as having severe or moderate learning disabilities — and therefore qualified to take an alternate test where poor results do not count against the districts’ ratings — has sigficantly increased. That trend continued in 2012, with a 6 percent rise in students taking modified exams. This comes as the number of test-takers continues to dip.

Test results show many districts saw no major changes to their overall scores since last year, with a few districts posting significant gains. Districts with double-digit increases for 10th grade test-takers were Bloomfield, Derby, Litchfield, New London, Norwich, Thompson and Bridge Academy Charter School.