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Signs of progress in Conn. and at NLHS

Published May 15. 2014 4:00AM

'We should maybe take 30 seconds to celebrate, and then get back to work," was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's assessment of news that Connecticut high school seniors had the best reading scores in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as the "nation's report card."

Connecticut students also scored at the top in the math test with three other states and only Connecticut and Arkansas showed improvement in both their reading and math scores since the last time the test was taken in 2009. The state was one of only 13 states taking the test that allowed their scores to be released.

That was the good news and the reason for the governor's declaration that there is reason to celebrate, but not to overdo it.

The test measures proficiency, in this case defined as competency over challenging subject matter, in reading and math and the bad news is Connecticut didn't have to perform all that well in reading or math to lead the nation.

The state's high school seniors scored a 50 percent proficiency rating in reading, compared to a 36 percent rating nationwide, while the state's 32 percent proficiency in math was seven points ahead of the 25 percent national average.

It doesn't require proficiency in math to conclude that half of the state's seniors are therefore not proficient in reading and two-thirds lack competency in performing challenging math problems.

And the achievement gap between white students and minority students in Connecticut and across the nation remains discouragingly wide, according to the national report card.

The test indicated 58 percent of the state's white high school seniors are proficient in reading, compared with 26 percent of black students and 26 percent of Hispanic students.

The math results were far worse with 40 percent of the state's white seniors proficient, compared with 12 percent of Hispanics and a dismal 6 percent of black seniors.

The test results did show a significant reduction in the previous achievement gap between white and minority students in reading, though not in math. The gap between whites and minorities in reading dropped 9 percentage points while the gap in math stayed approximately the same in the past five years.

More than 100 Connecticut high schools, chosen to be demographically representative of the state, participated in the tests last year and, despite the mixed results, Connnecticut appears to be among the very few showing some movement in the right direction.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor believes the progress is due to the adoption of more rigorous education standards since "the state committed itself to the Common Core State Standards in 2010."

He also pointed to the state's investment of $150 million in the poorest performing school districts and, as we recently saw in New London, increased state support, combined with efforts at the local level to improve school performance, is making a difference.

Recently, New London High School was awarded a bronze medal as part of U.S. News & World Report's "2014 Best High Schools" rankings. While no one would confuse the urban high school with the schools that received top academic ranking from the magazine, the level of improvement impressed those doing the evaluating.

Bronze medal schools "performed better on state reading and mathematics assessments than their poverty level would lead one to expect" and had "disadvantaged student subgroups that performed better than the state average."

The Connecticut Academic Performance Test scores have been improving for NLHS students. Superintendent Nicholas Fischer, who will be leaving at the end of this school year, called the progress dramatic. U.S. News apparently agrees.

The Day congratulates the students, teachers, administrators and the New London Board of Education for this recognition. But as the governor noted, keep the celebration short and get back to work.

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