Preston - While schools will be expected to meet higher standards on the Connecticut Mastery Test under the state education reform plan, Preston school officials have determined that the town's two schools meet or come close to meeting state goals still years away.
The state received a waiver of some provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind law in anticipation of education reform measures that would replace those performance targets. Preston Superintendent John Welch attended a conference in July to hear an explanation of the new guidelines.
State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor sent a letter in August giving Preston's numerical placement in the new accountability system.
Instead of tracking whether schools made "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind, schools, school districts and subgroups of students, such as ethnic, economic and English language learners, will be ranked on a new "school performance index."
Students who reach the existing performance level of "goal" on a given test will receive one credit. Students reaching the proficiency level will receive .67 credits, and those who score basic will receive .33 credits.
The magic number in tallying these new credit scores is 88. The state will ask schools and districts to meet that 88 score at some future point. As the starting baseline, the state took three years of Mastery Test scores, applied the new credit system and calculated scores. Schools and districts now will be asked to get halfway from their baseline score to the target of 88 by 2018.
"In Preston, we've been emphasizing that we want 80 percent of students scoring at goal or advanced levels," Welch said. "We've done well in meeting that, and we have positioned ourselves well in the new accountability system."
According to figures provided by the state, the Preston Plains Middle School has reached the target 88 score, with a three-year schoolwide baseline average of 88.9. A state-designated performance goal for this year is to "maintain" that level. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches scored 86.2, and the state target is 86.3 for the next Mastery tests in spring.
Students with disabilities at the middle school scored 65.7 over the past three years, with a goal this year of raising that to 67.6.
Preston Veterans' Memorial School has not fared as well as the middle school on the Mastery tests in recent years, but still has a three-year baseline of 80.7. The target for this year is 81.3.
Welch said improving performance by lower grade students is a priority for this year. "We are capable of being highly successful by the end of eighth grade," Welch said. "We need to start the way we finish, strong. Our focus really is in assisting our teachers in getting greater success at the lower (grade) levels here."