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Hartford Press as Arm of NCLB Publicity Department

Connecticut's schoolchildren are not making the kind of progress that will be needed to keep pace with President Bush's strict new education standards, according to state test results being released today.

Despite a few bright spots, scores on the latest Connecticut Mastery Test indicate that many schools - possibly hundreds - will have trouble meeting the requirements of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

The scores remained relatively stable even as schools tested more special-education and bilingual students, but educators are concerned about the slow pace of progress on the annual test of reading, writing and mathematics.

"No one should be satisfied with these results," Education Commissioner Theodore S. Sergi said. "We are going to have to step up our annual progress significantly in order to meet the new federal statutory expectations."

More is riding on the mastery test results than ever before because the scores will be used to determine which schools fall below the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The full impact of the federal law will be felt in Connecticut a year from now, when low-performing schools will be expected to show substantial progress or face sanctions - such as allowing parents to transfer their children to other schools.

On national tests, Connecticut children consistently get some of the highest reading scores in the nation, but today's state results show, for example, that about one-fifth of all fourth-graders still cannot read well enough to understand their own textbooks. That figure has remained basically unchanged over the past three years.

In addition, while black and Hispanic students continue to narrow the gap between themselves and white students, the improvement is not enough to keep their schools from being singled out when the No Child Left Behind Act takes full effect.

"As a state, we should expect to be making more visible progress," Sergi said. "I'm disappointed that our overall growth rate the last two years has been so small, even though many districts and schools have made significant gains."

The Connecticut Mastery Test, which has been given since 1985, is regarded as one of the most rigorous in the nation and has been credited with reshaping school curriculums and teacher training. Now it also becomes the benchmark for the federal law.

Twenty-eight Connecticut schools, mostly in low-income urban areas, already have been singled out as needing improvement under that law, but the number is expected to increase dramatically as Connecticut begins measuring all of its schools against new federal standards in reading and mathematics.

Under the new federal law, schools will be judged on whether enough students - including minority groups, low-income children, bilingual students and special-education students - meet specified marks on the mastery test.

About 126,000 fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders took the mastery test last fall. Here are some of the key findings from today's report:

About 56 percent of fourth-graders met the state goal in reading, but 21 percent scored at a level requiring remedial help. Those figures were nearly reversed in the state's major cities, where just 23 percent met the goal while 48 percent fell into the remedial group. "Fourth-grade reading performance remains our greatest concern," Sergi said.

Students generally showed meaningful growth as they got older, according to a state analysis comparing this year's scores to those from two years ago. For example, students who took the test as fourth-graders in 2000 performed better as sixth-graders in 2002 in mathematics, reading and writing.

The performance gap separating black and Hispanic students from white students narrowed slightly in most subjects - continuing a steady trend over several years - but still remains large. In eighth-grade mathematics, for example, 68 percent of white students met the state goal, compared with 22 percent of black students and 23 percent of Hispanic students.

Participation rates on the test generally improved across the state this year, an indication that most schools will meet the strict participation requirements under the No Child Left Behind law. But Hartford and New Britain still had high absentee rates on the test among eighth-graders, state officials said.

When Sergi reviews the scores today before the State Board of Education, he is expected to emphasize the need for more help for urban schools, such as an expansion of preschool programs, summer school, tutoring programs, teacher training and parent training.

"I can't say we're not making progress. It's just not fast enough," he said Tuesday. "We've got to ratchet up our progress without causing harmful stress, without limiting recess, without limiting the arts."

Among the encouraging signs was that 42 percent of those who took the test met the state goals in all three subject areas - more than double the rate of a decade ago.

Under the federal legislation, every state is expected to gradually raise the proportion of students meeting a proficiency standard in reading and mathematics until 100 percent of students reach that level by the 2013-14 school year.

"That's going to be a tremendous challenge, just keeping up with that moving target," said James Thompson, principal at Hartford's Simpson-Waverly School, one of the top-scoring elementary schools in the city.

In suburbs and rural areas, too, educators are mindful of test scores and the possible consequences under the new federal law.

The law, said Rose Bisson, principal of Borough Elementary School in Stafford, "isn't realistic. We have children who work very hard, but they won't reach mastery by fourth grade. ... Our scores still need improvement."

At the Metacomet School in Bloomfield, scores went up, leaving Principal Portia Mendez hopeful that the school won't wind up on the federal government's list. She said she is elated by the latest results, adding, "I am walking on air."

She expressed concern, however, about the performance of third-graders, who were given a sample test this year. "We have work to do," she said.

In one of the state's biggest cities, New Haven, officials reported both higher participation rates and better scores.

"We start with [high] standards down in kindergarten. ... We're starting to see the results," said William Drago, principal of Woodward School in New Haven, which was singled out by Sergi for its dramatic improvement. Nearly 55 percent of Woodward's fourth-graders met the state goal in mathematics, up from 22 percent two years earlier.

As long as schools continue to emphasize the standards established on the mastery test, Drago added, "I think we're going to be in good shape in terms of No Child Left Behind."

— Robert Frahm
Test Scores Raise Fears Of Schools Left Behind
Hartford Courant
Feb. 5, 2003


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