Nation’s Report Card: CT continues to show largest achievement gap

For years, Connecticut has had the worst achievement gap in the nation between its minority students and their peers in learning to read and do math — and according to the results of a major test given periodically, not much has changed.

While Connecticut students overall test very well in math and reading when compared with students in other states, black and Hispanic students and those from low-income families are still far behind their classmates.

The “Nation’s Report Card” — a U.S. Department of Education test given to students in every state -– shows that Connecticut continues to have the largest achievement gap between its minority students and their peers in five of the 12 indicators. In the remaining areas, Connecticut is still close to having the largest gap in the nation.

“There were not significant changes. Our gap remains very large,” said Jonathan Plucker, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, which studies education policy and the achievement gap. “Connecticut did not make progress, but then again, few states did.” 

Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees these tests, told reporters during a conference call this week that he is disappointed in the snail’s pace in closing the achievement gap in states across the nation.

Connecticut’s education commissioner Thursday said that despite the bad news, the state is headed in the right direction. He pointed out the state used to have the largest gap in the country in seven of the 12 areas.

“This means that Connecticut no longer ranks first in the nation on a majority of gap measures,” Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. “By no means should we declare victory based upon these rankings, but it’s certainly encouraging to see them moving in the right direction.”

The two areas where Connecticut was able to break from the distinction of having the worst gap was among fourth grade black and Hispanic students in reading. Those students’ average scores have risen by a handful of points since 2011, slightly narrowing what had been a 35-point gap. But despite those increases, Connecticut’s black and Hispanic students still have one of the widest gaps in scores in reading when compared with other states.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has taken a number of steps aimed at trying to narrow the achievement gap, a problem the Democratic governor has called the “civil rights issue of our time.”

“When you’re facing one of the widest achievement gaps in the nation — it is essential to implement new approaches that break away from the status quo,” Malloy said Thursday.

In recent years the state has funneled additional money to the state’s lowest-performing districts to implement certain reforms, intervened in 11 schools and launched changes and focused on identifying elementary students who cannot read early and get them extra instruction. Districts across the state are also in the process of launching new teacher evaluations linked to student performance.

“In order to close the still too sizeable achievement gap in our state, we must continue to invest in efforts to turn around low-performing schools,” Pryor said. “We have the potential to make great progress in the coming years. We can set the standard for the nation both for overall achievement and for closure of the achievement gap.”

But Plucker said only time will tell if this round of reforms impacts this stubborn gap.

“They have made some pretty big departures from the status quo,” he said. “Have they made a big difference here yet? No. Could they? Yes, maybe eventually.”

Plucker said research indicates it typically takes anywhere from four to eight years for the impact of education reforms to play out. 

“It’s just too early to tell,” he said.

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