Getting excited about NL school success

Student, teachers and administrators deserve high praise for the dramatic improvement seen at New London High School on the Connecticut Academic Performance Tests. The scores for the 10th graders - the incoming junior class - were remarkable. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading under the federal No Child Left Behind law nearly doubled, to 70.7 percent, and big increases were seen in math, writing and science as well.

Meanwhile, scores for the Connecticut Mastery Tests in grades three through 8 were uneven, though the overall trend was up.

New London is developing success to build on. Because of its past academic troubles, New London is among the school districts receiving special attention from the state. Just a month ago, the state Board of Education appointed veteran superintendent Steven Adamowski as a "special master" to work with the city towards improving student performance.

The latest standardized test results suggest Mr. Adamowski is intervening in a system that is on the upswing. This holds the potential for New London schools to see major improvement in a relatively short time. The Malloy administration, which we are sure would welcome evidence that its education reforms can work, would do well to give New London plenty of attention and help.

Mr. Adamowski will soon begin working with the New London Board of Education to create a Strategic Operating Plan, outlining strategies and actions necessary to continue raising student achievement. Mr. Adamowski also wants to work towards increasing parent involvement in the schools. The help of a special master should leave Superintendent Nicholas Fischer a freer hand in building upon the programs that are working.

Dr. Fischer had been hinting about the potential for improved test scores and the results did not disappoint. On these pages Dr. Fischer recently published an opinion piece about the cooperation that was necessary from teachers and administrators to develop a new teacher evaluation system and to better clarify expectations for instructors. Improved scores are in part the fruits of those efforts, he said.

New London High School Principal William "Tommy" Thompson credited the hard work of students, the improved focus on their individual learning needs, and the emphasis and implementation of effective teaching practices for having "changed the trajectory" of achievement at the school.

We also note that the Board of Education in April voted not to extend Dr. Fischer's contract beyond the 2013-14 school year, when it is set to expire. The board should reconsider that decision. After a sometimes difficult transition during his first two years, the steps the superintendent took to raise the performance expectations for students and staff are gaining traction. A contract extension would provide stability and send the message to staff that Dr. Fischer has the board's backing.

In posting these significant gains, New London bucked troubling state trends. Statewide the big achievement gap between students from low-income families, largely in urban areas, and their more affluent suburban peers remained largely unchanged from a year ago. Disparities also continue between minority groups and white students on the math, reading and writing tests. New London's 10th grade scores, meanwhile, nearly eliminated the achievement gap between African-American and white students, with African-American students in New London surpassing their racial peers statewide by 20 percentage points.

None of this is to suggest the problem is solved. The challenge ahead is to sustain and build upon this success and strive for similar achievement in the elementary grades. But there is reason for excitement and optimism about the academic performance of city students and New London has not been able to say that for a long time.

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