Updated, 1 p.m.: PDF added; 10:56 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools is “once again the number one urban district” in Connecticut, in the words of Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel.
“That’s something, considering where we were in the last 10 years and where we are right now,” he said at Tuesday’s BoE meeting. “That’s something to be really proud of: number one, two years running.”
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski echoed Kimmel’s description of NPS as the “number one urban school district” after Testing and Evaluation Specialist Diane Filardo gave an in-depth explanation of the 2017-18 Next Generation Accountability report.
NPS achieved an accountability index score of 76.8 percent, top in its DRG (District Reference Group), surpassing the statewide index of 74.9 percent, the information presented by Filardo shows.
“We did have one School of Distinction last year. Now we have four School of Distinctions and only one elementary school with a (achievement) gap,” Filardo said.
“In its fourth year, the state-administered Next Generation Accountability System takes a holistic approach in its assessment of schools and districts, relying on data from a dozen indicators including test scores, academic growth, chronic absenteeism, graduation rates, college readiness, and arts access,” the CT Mirror reports. “The state assigns different weights to those factors, then calculates a single ‘accountability index’ number for each school and district.”
There were 160 schools statewide given the “Distinction” moniker “because they have a high overall academic performance, or are among the schools with the highest rate of academic growth for all students or for students with high needs,” the Mirror states.
Norwalk’s Tracey Elementary School has earned distinction status for both high performance and high growth in ELA and Math, for all students and for high needs students as a separate category, Filardo said Tuesday.
“There are only 14 schools in the entire state that have that same level of distinction,” Filardo said. “Kendall and Jefferson, they are Schools of Distinction because of growth in ELA for their high needs students. Rowayton, for high growth for both ELA and math for all students and high needs students.”
Tracey was recently named a 2019 Connecticut School of Character by Character.org, a national advocate and leader for character education.
Tracey was upgraded from a Category 3 School to a Category 2 School in 2016-17 and is a Category 1 for 2017-18.
“I just want to commend the work Tracey has done,” Board member Julie Corbett said. “I think this also demonstrates how important character work is and the importance of social-emotional learning and the direct ties to academics … Every time I go in there it’s just such an amazing learning environment.”
It’s a School of Distinction because nearly 80 percent of its students are high needs, Adamowski said, calling that “quite an achievement.”
“I think the reason people are so interested in this nationally and throughout the state, is that this is one of the first times anyone has been able to establish a connection, a proof point, between social and emotional education and student achievement,” Adamowski said. “Prior to this time, social and emotional education was a good thing but not viewed to directly influence student achievement. When see it in this context you realize how important it is.”
Board Chairman Mike Barbis asked about the declines at Cranbury Elementary School, which had an accountability index of 77.6 percent in 2016-17 and a 64.1 percent in 2017-18.
“It was really driven not by academic performance but by (lack of) growth, particularly in the area of mathematics,” Filardo said.
“If you are doing really well on the tests already, there’s not a lot of room to grow. You kind of get dinged for that. So, it’s a funny structure,” Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said.
“The higher you get, the harder it is to maintain that level of growth. This is true for the district as well,” Adamowski said.
Ponus Ridge Middle School and West Rocks Middle School decreased slightly, a 4.5 percent drop for Ponus and a 2.5 percent drop for West Rocks. Filardo said that was due to the growth issue.
NPS has previously led with its mathematics scores and the problem was ELA, Adamowski said.
“This year you see math leveling off, even though we are within two points overall of the state, and our growth gains have been in ELA,” Adamowski said. “That is a very welcome development, by the way, because we were concerned after those consecutive years in math growth that we weren’t seeing the same in ELA. So this is actually a much healthier balance for us at this point.”
The Center for Global Studies showed a drop, but that was due to a technical glitch that underreported arts access, Filardo said, asserting that instead of the reported 85.3 score it should have been 90.3.
“We have the highest school performance index of any district, no matter how you set the group,” Adamowski said.
About 15 of the 40 citizens present applauded.
Corbett asked for the accountability indexes from surrounding towns. Filardo provided this info:
- Darien 82.6
- Greenwich 79.7
- Weston 79.1
- Westport 82.6
- Wilton 79.6
Meyer-Mitchell brought up the wide disparities in per-pupil spending between Norwalk and those towns.
“I think we are really displaying an incredible return on investment here,” she said.
“We do have a superior return on investment,” Adamowski agreed. As a result of the good news, NPS is working to revise its “per-pupil spending” sign to compare NPS to the state instead of its surrounding communities, to show the bang for the buck, he said.
“We have a lot … to be proud of especially looking at this and all the hard work that all of our students and our teachers and staff, and administrators have put into this,” Board member Heidi Keyes said. “It’s right here, the numbers are here, and we know, numbers don’t lie.”
A number of audience members, including Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams, laughed. Penn-Williams and the NAACP recently called for Barbis’s resignation after NancyOnNorwalk reported on an October email in which Barbis urged Board Members not to attend the NAACP’s Freedom Fund scholarship banquet, citing “very serious false allegations and attacks” on the Board and administration.”
Corbett later suggested that NPS come up with the type of racial ethnic demographic breakdown that used to be required under No Child Left Behind, even though it’s no longer required, “so that we could actually really start to see what differences and gaps exist.”
Adamowski said NPS could come up with that information so the Board could review it at its annual retreat next summer.
“Having said that, the … data, fourth and eighth grade, suggests no difference, or very little difference, between race, ethnicity and income, as measured by the free lunch proxy,” Adamowski said. “… This is an issue of income. In many cases, you have race and ethnicity masquerading as income.”
Former Board member Shirley Mosby, NAACP Education Chairwoman, thanked Corbett for the suggestion, commenting, “That was going to be my question.”
“Although I thank Diane for the report, I believe that we need the entire data in order to make an informed decision on what’s going on,” Mosby said. “So, when you do the break down, break it down by school. I need to find out the gender, the race and the schools that these kids are in.”
Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers also spoke to the Board, touting the NextGen success from her perspective as the “newest member.”
“I am so appreciative of your work because I am watching school districts across the country, trying to do what you are doing, and try to really change the outcomes and beliefs for all children, and you have evidence of what that looks like and how that it’s working. This report is a tremendous celebration,” she said. “…Each one of your incremental decisions is kind of evidence in the work that we are doing.”
“How do we quantify beyond these numbers how our students are learning and growing, because ultimately they’re not going to go out in the world and take tests, they are going to go out in the world and make a difference. So, are we making sure that they are equipped in that way?” Meyer-Mitchell asked.
As part of moving to a 26-credit requirement for graduation, students will be required to complete capstone projects, Myers said. She also mentioned curriculum efforts, commenting, “In our data meeting, we are not just looking at NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) data, we’re looking at live student data and we’re talking about what does live work from students look like? And using that to drive our instruction.”