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Test scores: Norwalk tops among cities, but lags behind state

Norwalk BOE 080613 165

Norwalk Schools Superintendent Manuel Rivera put a positive spin on standardized test results announced Tuesday by the state.

NORWALK, Conn. – The scores are in, and, for new Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manuel Rivera, the glass is half full.

The state released the 2013 Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT) results Tuesday, showing improvements at the 10th-grade (CAPT) level and some slippage – with an asterisk – at the elementary level.

The results show Norwalk performed well among the state’s eight largest cities — cities population 70,000 and up — posting the highest or second-highest scores (sometimes by a 10th of a percentage point) in all but two of the 22 categories in the CMT and CAPT combined, both in scoring at or above goal in in percentage of students at proficiency or above. Among the cities, Norwalk posted 12 firsts, eight seconds and two thirds in both metrics.

The eight largest cities are Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwalk, Danbury and New Britain.

In a Wednesday press release, Rivera said students were at state level or better in some grades and disciplines.

Figures show, however, that Norwalk, while posting some better-than-statewide gains, still scored below state averages in most areas.

According to the release, state CAPT results were “generally positive,” while CMT results were down. But, Rivera noted, results were a marked improvement over the baseline year of 2006.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor attributed the decline in CMT scores to the transition to Common Core State Standards.

“It is increasingly apparent that our legacy tests are out of sync with the new common core standards,” Pryor said in a press release.

Rivera had similar thoughts about the CMT scores, taking a “this, too, shall pass” approach.

“I am not surprised by the performance of Norwalk’s students on the CMT tests, given Norwalk’s transition to Common Core State Standards that began more than a year ago,” he said. “I believe that it is important for parents to note that the CMT tests will cease to exist at the end of this school year … and the entire state will transition to new assessments that will be aligned with Common Core Standards. The results of these new assessments (in 2015) will become a new baseline for us with which to track our progress as a school district.”

Rivera listed bullet points to highlight some areas of Norwalk’s CMT results:

Mathematics

• Compared to the state, a higher percentage of Norwalk students reached proficiency and goal at grades 3 and 4.

• The percentage of grade 7 students reaching proficiency exceeded grade 7 statewide results.

• Compared to 2012, there were increases in the percent of students reaching goal at grades 4 and 8.

Reading

• Compared to the state, a higher percent of Norwalk students reached proficiency and goal at grade 7.

• Grade 8 students were on par with statewide proficiency results for the first time.

• Compared to 2012, there were increases in the percent of students reaching goal at grades 4, 7, and 8.

Writing

• Compared to the state, a higher percent of Norwalk students reached proficiency and goal at grade 4.

• The percent of grade 5 students reaching proficiency exceeded statewide results.

• Compared to 2012, there were increases in the percent of students reaching goal at grades 4, 5, 7, and 8.

CMT conclusions

• Grades 4 and 8 made the most progress on the 2013 CMT in all content areas. Students continued with the large gains they made on the 2012 CMT when tested at grades 3 and 7.

• Norwalk’s 2013 reading results exceeded state results at some grades for the first time.

• The number of grades that exceeded state results in mathematics increased, compared to prior CMT results.

• The largest gap between Norwalk’s goal results and state goal results was at grade 6 in all content areas.

Rivera said he was “pleased to see gains on the state CAPT tests, especially in science and math.”

“Norwalk’s results are generally ‘on par’ with results across the state and as reported by the commissioner,” he said. “However, there are some distinctions that should be noted regarding Norwalk’s performance when compared to the state.”:

Mathematics

• Compared to 2012, the percent of students reaching the mathematics goal increased 9.9 percentage points, from 32.5 percent to 42.4 percent. In 2013, the state gained 3.3 points. Statewide, 52.6 percent of students were at or above goal.

Science

• Compared to 2012, the percent of students reaching the science goal increased 3.1 percentage points, from 32.4 percent to 35.5 percent. In 2013, the state gained 1.7 points. Statewide, 49 percent were at or above goal.

Reading

• Compared to 2012, the percent of students reaching the reading goal remained about the same, moving from 36.8 percent to 36.7 percent. Statewide, 48.5 percent were at or above goal.

Writing

• Compared to 2012, the percent of students reaching the writing goal remained about the same, 52.5 percent to 52.7 percent. The state dropped 1 point to 62.1 percent.

CAPT conclusions

• Norwalk’s 2013 CAPT results show progress in mathematics and science.

• State results exceed Norwalk results in all content areas.

• The smallest gap between Norwalk and the state is in writing, both at proficiency and goal.

Rivera said in the release that his office is continuing to analyze the subgroup data.

For a town-by-town breakdown of CAPT  scores, click here.

For a town-by-town breakdown of  CMT scores, click here.

19 comments

marjoriem August 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Guess this means the RedApples don’t know what they are talking about. So what else is new? Congratulations to the teachers! Congratulations to the Interim Superintendent Daddona. Great year!

Suzanne August 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm

marjoriem, your glee is misplaced. If you go to the town-by-town breakdowns for CMT and CAPT links provided by Nancy on Norwalk, you will see just how low the expectations are for excellence in Norwalk schools. I went to to just one of these comparison sites, CAPT scores for the 10th grade, and Norwalk scores the lowest across categories when compared to neighboring communities. Why would we set our expectations so low for our children?

ScopeonNorwalk August 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Do you know what the 8 largest cities in CT are? Nothing to brag about there. We could be the best performing amongst CT’s 8 largest cities and still be amongst the worst in the state or Fairfield County. I like his optimistic outlook but we do need higher standards than that.

(Editor’s note: The inclusion of the standing in the 8 largest cities was our idea, not Rivera’s. It is tough to simply measure the overall performance of city schools, which have a large and socially and economically diverse population, against smaller, wealthier and less diverse towns. If not like comparing apples to oranges, it is at least like comparing oranges and grapefruit. The state figures include everyone; the cities are on the low end, so one can figure that the smaller towns and cities scored higher. When I covered some high-end systems in Westchester County, those superintendents were always quick to point out that many city schools had excellent programs but scored lower because of demographics.)

David August 14, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I’m very glad to see the comparison made vs. the other cities in the state (kudos, NoN) because that’s a true apples-to-apples comparison.
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Cities face different challenges than towns. Household economics make comparing Norwalk to our richer Fairfield County neighbors pointless.
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There is obviously still work to be done. Connecticut has an achievement gap problem, which we all know desperately needs to be addressed at a state level.

M. Murray's August 15, 2013 at 6:14 am

I often wonder how much these test scores are a reflection on the schools, teachers, and students and how much is a reflection of the parents. Why so children that have the same innate abilities who have similar teachers perform so differently? Is it the school or the parents not holding their children responsible for homework and helping them with their studies? Is it the school district or time adults spend with them during their infant and toddler years teaching them basic language skills?

Suzanne August 15, 2013 at 8:09 am

“Household economics make comparing Norwalk to our richer Fairfield County neighbors pointless.” Why? While demographics are different and resources more widely dispersed in Norwalk as opposed to, say, Westport, Darien and New Canaan, the expectation that Norwalk will somehow just not achieve because it is a City with more racial and economic diversity is some kind of -ism. There are plenty of examples of excellent schools in poorer neighborhoods in Cities much larger than ours. Setting our sights so low achieves an expected lower outcome. And, yes, parents are key to academic success for children. While I cannot cite a specific study, I have read they are the single GREATEST predictor of consistent student success in academics. That’s why education is not just the three R’s and then some but includes addressing “psycho-social” needs of children. You can’t learn if you are hungry, haven’t done your homework, can’t afford a pencil or books.

marjoriem August 15, 2013 at 8:59 am

The Norwalk teachers have to work even harder than the neighboring community educators. They should be congratulated! It’s not easy to bring the test scores up when Norwalk ‘s population increases in size with low income families. The middle class families (who have not moved on) don’t get it. Research shows that low income students suffer academically because they (most often) enter school already deficient in vocabulary. Vocabulary is a major indicator of success in reading. Our teachers, aides and other members of the staff are amazing! Don’t bash good teachers (as the Apples do) and expect them to remain in Norwalk. We have literacy experts, numeracy experts and other very well trained staff. Throw all the staff development you want at them, Apples, and you won’t find better educators. Stop putting Norwalk down!

BSmith August 15, 2013 at 9:02 am

It seems the argument is Norwalk kids will never achieve at the same level as those in Westport, Wilton et al since the socioeconomic, racial and parent involvement levels determine their destiny—unless, of course, some miracle occurs that eliminates society’s woes. In this argument, comparing Norwalk with other high achieving districts is simply a waste of time for years to come. Success is improbably at best, most likely impossible. I’m not buying that.

David August 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

Suzanne, it’s not an “-ism”, it’s statistics. The direct correlation between economic background and academic success in the general population has been illustrated time and time again. And while there may be singular instances to the contrary, the broader trend still holds true.
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Completely agree with you on the “parents” comment, aside from socioeconomic the next greatest predictor of academic success is the education of the primary caregiver.

Suzanne August 15, 2013 at 10:47 am

Or the ambition of the primary care giver. My Dad flunked kindergarten but went on to be a successful person in government and a college professor. Why? Because his mother and father, each educated to eighth grade thought education was his ticket out of the working class/poverty they lived in. It was a powerful message that was passed on to my Dad’s children – not that this gives you common sense, but every last one of us have multiple degrees and reasonably successful careers. More importantly, my grandparents taught us to be curious and life long learners in or out of school. This crosses socioeconomic lines and demographics and is not uncommon among immigrant families. I still say you get what you expect: poverty means educational failure while wealth means success. It’s hogwash.

M Allen August 15, 2013 at 10:54 am

It’s not the teachers. On the upside or the downside. Sorry teachers, but you can’t claim credit for modest gains off a low base anymore than you should be held to account for the low base to begin with. Teachers are in an undeniably bad position, basically treading water with what they are given from one school year to the next in terms of students. The fact is that our schools, as measured in the aggregate of test results, are only as good as the homes of the student which populate our schools. It all starts at home. Teachers are fighting an uphill battle with the weak socio-economic environment that too many of Norwalk’s students come from. This is the conundrum though, isn’t it? Can we really expect aggregate test scores to show something better than what they do when far too many students don’t have a supportive home environment with which to rely upon for their education? The curriculum is important. Teachers are important. The school environment is important. Proper funding is important. But all of these things seem incapable of overcoming the serious deficiencies that emanate from too many homes. Thus we can’t compare Norwalk schools to our Fairfield County neighbors. Our neighbors, other than Stamford, simply do not face the same obtacles that Norwalk does. But let’s also not kid ourselves. It isn’t about spending more and more money. At some level we reach a point of diminishing gains from each incremental dollar spent. At some point we have to consider that advancing students who have not met the goals is simply a bad idea.

Joanne Romano August 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm

When are people going to realize it is not the entire responsibility of the teachers to assure that your children make the grade. Hello parents out there, what happened to parental guidance and homework before play time? I don’t want to hear you don’t have time because of your tight schedules, make time, they are your kids and their future lies in your hands! So sick of the blame game here, anyone aware that the teachers have kids/families/jobs/personal lives as well? They devote anywhere from 8-10 and sometimes more hours a day to your kids, take up the slack folks and teach your kids the importance of a good, well rounded education! They are your kids, do the right thing and stop blaming others for the fact that your child fails. Children first learn at home and the rest is life experience! Sorry if I hit a nerve and don’t really care who doesn’t like what I have to say, we are responsible for those we bring into this world until such time as they are responsible for themselves!!!!!

David August 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Suzanne, the concept that somehow people lower on the socioeconomic ladder have lower ambitions for their children IS, without a doubt, an “-ism”.
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It takes money to hire a tutor, attend private music lessons or science camp.
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Your Father came out of poverty to be successful, so did mine, and they should be celebrated for their achievements. But to apply our parents experience then, to the general population now, is classic “survivor bias”, first of all, and second, the income achievement gap began to increase most significantly for children born in the 70’s. So comparing our parents experiences is kind of like starting a conversation with “back in my day…”. It has no bearing on today’s reality.
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I don’t want you think that I like this, I don’t accept this as the way things should be – none of us should. I think this is going to hurt our ability to grow economically in the future. This is a huge systemic problem and it plays out across the country. We need big fixes. But the idea that we, as things stand, right now, can compete with some of the richest towns in the country, located right beside us, is just not rooted in current reality.

M Allen August 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I think the other thing we all need to consider is that looking at these aggregate scores is not telling the right story. At least not the right story as it relates to the quality of Norwalk’s schools. I know I don’t look at these scores to determine the overall quality of Norwalk’s schools when determining my child’s future. Good students with supoprtive backgrounds seem to do just fine. The unfortunate problem is that there are simply too many students who don’t have that kind of support at home. But as a parent, my primary concern is: how does this relate to my child? Not how do aggregate test scores relate to my child.

Joanne Romano August 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

M Allan- Agreed and kudos to those parents who realize the need for their support and nurturing as it reflects on a child’s education and future.

I have always felt that scoring children in categories is detrimental to their self esteem. I have never believed that a child should be put in groups based upon ethnicity and economical background, all children can learn, some quicker some slower unless they have an affliction that prevents them from doing so. I have never understood how we can let ourselves lump people into categories.. we are all made up of the same flesh bones and brain matter, our blood runs the same color. We can choose to excel or we can choose to lag behind but we cannot blame others for our shortcomings. Some children need just a bit more of a nudge than others and need to focus while others not so much but, it is the parents who need to instill values and overall need for education in their children. I don’t see it as competition between “richer cities”, that theory is almost laughable. Does a child’s learning ability change if you throw $100.00 at them? I think not!

NFT Rules August 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Silly people. Everyone knows that a child’s future is entirely dependent on a well funded pension scheme and salary growth rates double the private sector.

And really, who needs a work ethic when politicians will give you everything for free for the rest of your life?

Suzanne August 16, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Excellent article, “Don’t Panic”, and particularly apt to this thread. I was especially interested in the documentation showing integration of the poor with wealthier neighborhoods increased learning success while dividing/segregating by socioeconomic status adversely affects education outcomes. Thus, education policy is defined not just by itself but by social policy as well. The pre-school programs described sounded very similar to the Head Start programs which, if followed by effective education, give particularly poor children the “leg up” they need at an early age. I think your example of Union City, NJ, and its schools should give Norwalk educators and policy makers pause in terms of EXCELLENT not just “successful” education results.

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