New London - With the exception of two small schools - an alternative high school and a charter school - New London High School's 10th-graders had the lowest reading scores in the state this year.
Only Norwich's Thames River Academy and Bridge Academy in Bridgeport did worse than New London in the 2011 Connecticut Academic Performance Test's reading portion. CAPT results were released Tuesday.
School board members reacted vehemently to the news that only 37.4 percent of 10th-graders in the city's high school, including the Science and Technology Magnet School, reached the "proficient" level and only 8.9 percent reached "goal" in the reading part of the annual achievement tests.
"Unacceptable," board member Bill Morse said. "This is a call to arms."
Board member Barbara Major said she was "frustrated" by the results.
"We can't sugarcoat this," she said.
The CAPT has five categories of scores for each of the subject areas of reading, writing, math and science. They range from below basic to basic, proficient, goal and advanced.
Statewide, reading scores declined slightly, but students overall showed improvement in math, science and writing. The standardized test is administered in March to all high school sophomores.
In New London, scores in all four disciplines declined, in some cases steeply, from the 2010 results. Reading scores, for instance, dropped by 18 percentage points from 2010.
On the math section, 43.4 percent scored at the proficient level, down from 50.5 percent, and 15.5 percent scored goal, a drop from 19 percent.
The percentage of students scoring at or above proficiency is the standard the state uses to identify districts that are making adequate yearly progress in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"Goal" is a higher standard set by the state of Connecticut.
The percentage of students deemed proficient in science fell from 56.3 percent in 2010 to 45.9 percent in 2011, while 15.9 percent achieved goal, down from 21.8 in 2010.
The percentage of students scoring proficient in writing fell from 67 percent in 2010 to 52.5 percent in 2011. The percentage scoring goal, meanwhile, dropped from 26.1 percent to 15.4 percent.
Reading scores are the lowest among school systems in New London's District Reference Group (DRG), which includes Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Waterbury and Windham.
Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said he was not shocked by the CAPT scores.
"There is an issue with the skills they brought to the test," he said. "Some students did not know how to respond to the questions and did not have enough practice in writing. It's not a fluke."
Fischer, whom school board members praised as they voted to extend his contract recently, said he would soon be meeting with administrators and teachers to discuss the results.
"I'm not looking for excuses here," Fischer said. "I'm not blaming teachers, parents or the kids. We need to improve the quality of instruction and improve student achievement."
Morse said that in the 2011-12 academic year, teachers will receive more professional development from job coaches. "We need higher standards across the board," he said.
Board member Ronna Stuller said she was "hesitant to draw" conclusions about the CAPT results and wanted to wait until the school administration presents its report on the exams and the CMT scores from the lower grades in September.
"I can't say I'm too happy," Stuller said.
Board member Jason Catala said he was frustrated by the results, especially since the board renewed Fischer's contract last week.
"We should have got the (CAPT) results first (before the board voted)," Catala said. "Something is not working."
Statewide CAPT scores for 2010 and 2011
Reading: Students achieving at or above goal decreased from 45.9 percent to 44.8 percent. Students scoring at or above proficient decreased from 82.9 percent to 81.9 percent.
Writing: Students achieving at or above goal increased from 59.6 percent to 61.3 percent. Students scoring at or above proficient increased from 86.2 percent to 88.6 percent.
Math: Students achieving at or above goal increased from 48.9 percent to 49.6 percent. Students scoring at or above proficient increased from 78.8 percent to 80.3 percent.
Science: Students achieving at or above goal increased from 45.5 percent to 47.2 percent. Students scoring at or above proficient increased from 81.5 percent to 81.7 percent.
CAPT READING SCORES
IN DISTRICT REFERENCE GROUP I
% at or above Goal % at or above Proficiency
State Avg. 44.8 81.9
Windham 31.5 61.8
New Britain 17.2 49.1
New Haven 16.2 61.2
Waterbury 13.6 56.7
Hartford 10.7 57.5
Bridgeport 10.5 44.8
New London 8.9 37.4