Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell watches students in a science class at East Hartford Middle School.
Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell watches students in a science class at East Hartford Middle School.

Gaps in achievement between the state’s most vulnerable students and their peers remain unchanged, test data for the school year that just ended show.

While the rate of students reaching grade-level on the English exam is down slightly for pretty much every group of students compared to the 2015-16 school year, the three-year trend shows not much has changed. The state switched the tests it uses to measure whether students are at grade level three years ago, so showing longer-term trends is not possible.

About two-thirds of white students are still reaching grade level in English compared to one-third of black or Hispanic students. One-third of the students coming from low-income families are where they should be in English.

State Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell told reporters that her department is still digesting what to make of the largely stagnant statewide results.

But, she added, “There is probably no educator in Connecticut who is satisfied with what’s going on with the achievement gap.”

Connecticut has for years had among the largest gaps in achievement in the nation between it’s students from low-income families and their better-off classmates.

The achievement gap is being watched particularly closely because Connecticut is in the midst of a long court battle testing whether the education the state provides in its most impoverished school districts meets state Constitutional standards. The case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

In releasing the latest test results, Wentzell said the department is “keeping the focus on the long term and really seeing what works in schools to make a difference so we are not chasing fads.”

The State Department of Education was not ready to release more than essentially pass-fail rates on Friday, so it is unclear how many students are multiple grades behind and how many students are close to being where they need to be.

School-level pass-fail rates were also not released Friday. District-level rates were available for all students, but it was not broken out by the various groups of students.

The department plans to release that information in late August, as well as information on whether students scores are improving as they move from grade to grade. Friday’s release just shows how this year’s students did compared to last year’s students who took the same test.

“It’s a status test. Schools and districts are held accountable for not only the status measure for how the kids do this year, but also how much growth did you get from the kids that you have for the year,” said Wentzell.

“We will really have to wait for the final release to draw deeper inferences,” Wentzell said. “That really is the most important work – looking at how the kids did each year is really important, but knowing why there’s growth in some areas but not others… It’s really important to study what’s working.”

Of the results released Friday, pass rates on the math exam were a bit more promising since a slightly higher proportion of nearly every group of students reached grade level compared to three years ago. However, there was much more room for growth on the math scores since so many fewer students were where they need to be.

One in five black students were at grade level compared to three in five white students and one-in-four Hispanic students.

“While the increase is a slight one,” state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell told reporters Friday. “We are really excited to see a breakthrough in math.”

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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