One-third of high school juniors are not reading and writing well enough to begin taking college courses or start a career, statewide SAT results released Monday show. Math results are even more dire – 59 percent failed to meet the college- or career-ready standard.

Here are five things to know about this year’s results. (Including results for your school and district)

1. Some groups of students thrive – others stumble

Connecticut has long had a reputation for having some of the largest gaps in achievement between minority students and their white peers.

This year’s batch of scores did nothing to narrow those yawning gaps.

White students in Connecticut continue to be twice as likely as black or Hispanic students to have the reading and writing skills needed to be ready for college or career, the results from the 2018-19 SAT show. For math skills, white students are three times more likely to be prepared.

Ajit Gopalakrishnan, Bureau Chief Connecticut State Department of Education Performance Office, said the scores show slight improvements for minority students but there is still work to be done.

“These SAT scores are not painting a new picture about the current state of achievement in our state … [African Americans and Hispanics] are showing a slight increase in mathematics, but they are still lagging their white and Asian student peers,” Gopalakrishnan said.

Gopalakrishnan said a better measure of student progress is the Next Generation Accountability System, which is a broader state assessment of schools and districts that relies on data from a dozen indicators including test scores, academic growth, chronic absenteeism, graduation rates, college readiness, and arts access.

“We just have to continually meet students where they are, continue to engage students, make instruction relevant and interesting, and give them opportunities to excel,” Gopalakrishnan added, “because we believe and we know that all students under the right conditions can excel and that is our job as educators to provide that for all of our students.”

2. Just how far behind?

Many students are on the cusp of being where they should be and have their senior year to catch up. However, many students are multiple years behind. In math, one out of every four Connecticut students is significantly behind. In reading and writing, it’s one-in-five students.

Gopalakrishnan said there is a totality of circumstances that go into a student’s ability to master a subject, and those changes must start with instruction and curriculum.

“The [SAT shows] how students did on a standardized test on a particular day and that is a decent measure, but that is a culmination of students staying in school, coming to class, paying attention, teachers and instructors adhering to standards and not shortcutting them,” he said. There is so much that goes into whether a student has mastered the content, so that when they go into that testing center that one day they can actually demonstrate their knowledge. So changing instruction to make that happen is the long game.”

3. No improvement

Overall, Connecticut’s high school juniors have shown no significant changes in performance since 2015, when state officials decided to require every high school junior to take the exam instead of the controversial Smarter Balanced Assessment.

This year, the average math score was 501 points. This means the average Connecticut junior did not have the math skills necessary to begin a career or begin taking college courses. Students are considered college- and career-ready if they score at least 530 out of 800 points on the math portion of the exam. Students who reached that target have a 75 percent probability of earning at least a “C” in that subject in college.

The threshold for students to be college or career ready for English is 480 points and the average score was 515 points.

This stagnation is present across all groups of students – despite various state funding and reform efforts during this time.

“We always expect more and want our students to achieve more,” said Gopalakrishnan. “We had hoped for it to be better than this.”

Gopalakrishnan said reform efforts and increased funding have paid off in ways that may not be discernable from one day of testing, however, and stressed that the investments must continue despite the lag in improvement.

“We’ve seen improvements in our graduation rates. What used to be in the low eighties is now in the high eighties and we’re exceeding the national average,” Gopalakrishnan said. “I think our schools are fine and are doing a better job at engaging students, retaining them, keeping them involved in school and instruction, exposing them to a more rigorous curriculum. So it might not show up on this one test at this one place in time but I think if you were to look at the totality, I think you do see that investments are paying off.”

4. See how your town did

5. Other measures are important, too

Grading schools based on test scores has dominated much of the debate about school quality in recent years. But there is so much more that contributes to how students may do.

The CT Mirror created a database to provide parents with a broad collection of measures to judge their child’s school — from a breakdown of class sizes, how money is spent to how often students are disciplined. We will periodically update this tool. Check it out by clicking here.

Can’t find what you are looking for? The state also has created a site with more data that you can find by clicking here.

Maya Moore is CT Mirror’s 2019 Emma Bowen Foundation Intern. She is a journalism and political science student at the University of Connecticut and has an interest in topics covering race and social justice. Moore began her undergraduate journalism career as a campus correspondent with UConn’s independent student-led paper, the Daily Campus, and has since interned for the Hartford Courant. Her work has also been published in the Willimantic Chronicle and the university’s premier publication, UConn Today. Moore is a New Britain native and currently resides in Mansfield, where she continues to write for UConn’s communications department.

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16 Comments

  1. There are many factors that contribute to the low SAT scores. Some will point out societal issues and others will point out the failure of legislative policy and school superintendents. Still others will point out the failure of the high school system.

    In truth, the problem resides in the elementary phase of education. Think of elementary and secondary education as a three phase process. Phase I is the most important as it provides the foundation for all future education and knowledge. This is grades K-4. Phase I introduces basic concepts in math, English, and science. Students learn to construct sentence and then a coherent paragraph; students learn to sound out words, read, and comprehend; and students learn to perform basic math such as adding, subtraction, division, and multiplication.

    From my own experiences, there is little learning taking place in K-4. Too many students are grade promoted without proficiency in math, English, or science. The current model encourages principles to promote students, who they know are not academically prepared to the next grade, regardless of the consequences. The theory is that the next phase of education, Phase II that includes grades 5-8 will get the students up to par.

    Following bad guidance, Phase II educators pass students on to Phase III grades 9-12, accepting a false belief that the students and teachers can make up for 8 years of academic failure.

    It is easy to blame the high schools. But the real problem resides in the K-4 grades.

    1. Hi Mike, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

      1. A suggestion: Since you have a 1,000 character limit, please include a character count to show when we’re getting close to the limit.

      2. Hi Philidor, this is a completely fair request. Unfortunately, the Disqus platform does not allow us to display a character count or implement an automatic character limit, leaving us to manually enforce this effort. We usually allow comments that exceed the character limit to sit in “pending” for 24 hours to give the author an opportunity to shorten it.

      3. That’s unfortunate.
        I notice that comments sometimes appear as Pending, but it’s still possible to click on the text from CT Mirror and open it.
        Because an author may not know that the character limit has been exceeded, especially since the rule isn’t apparent without your comments, would it be possible to write that the comment is Pending because it exceeds the limit and still allow it to be opened for a while?
        I’m not sure how much control you have over the Pending but available text, but that might be a solution. One that gives the author a chance to edit the post to comply. Otherwise the post is invisible when the author of the post returns to the page.

      4. Hi Philidor, this is yet another fair suggestion. Unfortunately, while we have the ability to edit a comment before publishing it, we have no way of posting that the comment is pending without having to first delete the text of the original comment or post the entirety of the original comment in order to respond.

    2. And government’s solution to the problem is simply to throw more money at it with the hope that will fix everything. While the “elementary phase of education” may be part of the problem, I strongly believe that the kids’ home situation is an even larger part of the problem. Single parents have enough of a challenge to keep finances together with little time left to assist and oversee their kids education.

      1. There is acknowledgement on the many variables that can influence education. However, all parents have the ability to make education Priority #1 in the household and all parents have the ability to bring their child to the public library to checkout a book and read. The public library offers many services to assist both the parent and child with literacy in reading and math. Parents who do not make education a priority for their child are repeating the environment that they find themselves in.

  2. Here’s the main conclusion from this article: “This stagnation is present across all groups of students – despite various state funding and reform efforts during this time.”
    A state official defends continuing current efforts, mentioning specifically an increase in graduation rates. But is keeping a failing student in school until given a diploma to be considered a success?
    A suggestion which isn’t new: Focus on the personal problems of students, especially failing students. Schools can’t change students’ situations outside the doors much, but individuals who want to accept help can benefit. That means having case managers without an overwhelming caseload who are able to use resources outside the school.
    Spending more on the schools often doesn’t respond to the problems. Spending more on the students can be useful.

  3. excellent article. we have a long way to go in order for many more of our public school children to be prepared for college and life.

  4. And many experts on learning and testing will tell you that the SAT isn’t a very good measure of anything. Standardized tests are designed for a certain percentage to “fail” the test. However, these tests are huge money makers and since policy is driven by people who are not experts in learning and achievement, they will continue to take up too much instruction time and make money for people like David Coleman, CEO of College Board who earned 1.3 millions dollars last year.

  5. excellent article. we have a long way to go in order for many more of our public school children to be prepared for college and life.

  6. Just change the date of this article and it feels like I’ve been reading it for 20 years. Yikes! I’ll take just one shot and it targets this quote: “We’ve seen improvements in our graduation rates. What used to be in the low eighties is now in the high eighties and we’re exceeding the national average,” Gopalakrishnan said. Measuring success by graduation rates is a joke as the other stats prove. I’ve taught inner city HS in CT, MA and currently WA. Administrators are measured and paid on graduation rates. Big surprise then that they push low performing students out the door after senior year. IMHO the public doesn’t know and the experts aren’t admitting what it’s really going to take to fix our schools. And if the public did know, it would have neither the will nor the money to do it. One solution?
    Reinvest in community colleges and technical education. Help those low performers who hate school to learn a trade. The building trades is one area in desperate need of new entrants. Good money. A solid future. No college debt (most students drop out anyways).

  7. So $3.2 billion to build brand new CREC schools and $500 million/year in operating costs and college readiness has decreased from an abysmal 56% to 51%?

  8. No surprises here unfortunately, students from all walks of life no matter where they live or who they live with are constantly under assult from the news media, peer pressure, disfunctional family dynamics, substance abuse, etc…. a constant FLOW of TRAUMA that makes most students unavailable to learn. Very sad state of affairs 🙁

  9. No surprises here unfortunately, students from all walks of life no matter where they live or who they live with are constantly under assult from the news media, peer pressure, disfunctional family dynamics, substance abuse, etc…. a constant FLOW of TRAUMA that makes most students unavailable to learn. Very sad state of affairs 🙁

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