CT’s report card: Achievement gap shrinks but for wrong reason

A classroom at Hartford High School, Law and Government Academy

CT Mirror file photo

A classroom at Hartford High School, Law and Government Academy

First the good news: Connecticut’s achievement gaps between minority students and their classmates in math and reading are shrinking, according to data released Wednesday by the research arm for the U.S. Department of Education.

Now the bad news: Connecticut still has some of the largest gaps in the United States, and the primary reason the gaps have narrowed is that the state’s higher-achieving students are scoring lower on the test commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Several states showed declines in scores on these hour-long tests given to a sample of students every two years. (See below for a state-by-state breakdown.)

Peggy G. Carr, the acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees the tests, said the gap can be narrowed either by struggling students scoring higher or by high-performning students scoring worse.

CT 4th graders average math score
2013 2015 Difference
White 253.06 248.75 -4.31
Black 219.06 218.40 -0.66
Hispanic 224.03 223.69 -0.34
Asian 257.27 258.63 1.36
Qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 224.62 222.96 -1.65
Do not qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 255.13 250.59 -4.54
English language learners 210.55 216.85 6.30
English speakers 245.40 241.83 -3.57

“In a way, we don’t like to see Hispanics going up but whites going down,” Carr told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.

Nationwide, several states narrowed performance gaps between minority students or students from low-income families, but Carr says Ohio is the only one that narrowed the difference between 2013 and 2015 by showing significant improvements among the lowest-performing students.

Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said in a statement that the state is working hard to address low achievement by black and Hispanic students and those from low-income families.

“We have more work to do to raise student achievement and ensure that every child from every corner of the state has the skills and knowledge to succeed in college and career,” said Wentzell. “It continues to be a priority of the department to close these gaps through support to districts and increased focus on accountability.”

4th graders average reading score
2013 2015 Difference
White 238.48 239.60 1.12
Black 207.82 205.01 -2.81
Hispanic 209.39 210.47 1.07
Asian 245.68 235.36 -10.32
Qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 209.80 209.00 -0.81
Do not qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 241.85 240.14 -1.70
English language learners 181.17 190.14 8.97
English speakers 232.24 231.68 -0.57

Overall however, Connecticut’s students continue to score among the highest in the nation on the reading exam.

On the reading assessment, 44 percent of Connecticut’s fourth graders and 43 percent of eighth graders were proficient — scoring behind only Massachusettes, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The percent of Connecticut students proficient in math matched the national average.

Wentzell speculated the decline from 2013 might be caused by the state shift to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards.

“It is important to note that as school districts in Connecticut have transitioned to the more rigorous college- and career-ready standards of Common Core, there are some topics on the NAEP assessment that test student knowledge about topics the students have not yet learned,” reads a press release from the State Department of Education. “In Connecticut, we raised the bar for all children with more rigorous learning standards and curriculum, and these scores show we are holding our own as a state, and students are rising to this new challenge.”

When Connecticut changed the annual state assessment from the CMT and CAPT to the Smarter Balanced Assessments earlier this year, scores drastically declined.

8th graders average reading score
2013 2015 Difference
White 282.19 281.68 -0.50
Black 256.36 250.87 -5.49
Hispanic 255.95 255.65 -0.30
Asian 288.03 282.67 -5.36
Qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 255.75 255.69 -0.06
Do not qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals 284.27 282.24 -2.03
English language learners 221.59 217.27 -4.32
English speakers 276.32 274.86 -1.46

Officials who administer the Nation’s Report Card weren’t ready to draw any conclusion on what impact implementing the Common Core has had on student performance on their exams. However, a report released this week by the American Institutes for Research found the Nation’s Report Card largely aligns with the Common Core.

“One downturn does not a trend make, and that’s what we are comfortable about saying with the data,” said Carr during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. She said the public cannot assume that Common Core has been evenly implemented across all states.

The results of the tests will be used in the state’s school-funding lawsuit in January to show whether the state has, or has not, improved student achievement and whether it is providing students with an adequate education. Because the state switched to the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, these National Report Card exams are really the only test that are able to show changes in student testing outcomes over the last several years.

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