Published August 14. 2014 4:20PM Updated August 14. 2014 11:55PM
Preston — The Preston school system was the only district in the region to stick with what the state called the “legacy” Connecticut Mastery Test for reading, writing, math and science this past spring.
Most districts switched to the new Smarter Balanced field test for all subjects but science.
In this transition year, state Department of Education officials said only 10 percent of school districts opted to stay with the CMT, including Preston, leading the department to decide not to release statewide comparative data.
Preston Superintendent John Welch said Preston wanted to stick with the CMT to provide “a complete 11-year record” of local students’ progress with the current test. Preston schoolchildren have scored at high levels in recent years in the test, and Welch had hoped that trend would continue this year.
Results were more mixed than he had hoped, Welch said Thursday, with students in eight of the 18 test categories — reading, writing and math — reaching the town’s own target of having 80 percent of students scoring at state goal or advanced levels. That was a drop from students in 13 of the test categories reaching the 80 percent level in 2013. Still, students in 14 of those same 18 test categories scored at 90 percent or better at the proficiency level, a lower score than goal or advanced.
All school districts throughout the state this spring again used the CMT for fifth- and eighth-grade science tests and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for 10th grade science, a relatively new category for the test.
The state Department of Education reported that statewide, CMT science results showed modest increases in the percentage of students reaching the proficiency level in both fifth and eighth grades, while CAPT science scores dropped slightly from last year.
Commissioner’s Network schools showed “promising results,” state officials said, and the Alliance Districts, the state’s 30 lowest-performing school districts which received boosted state funding, also showed improvements.
Norwich and New London both are Alliance districts, and both had mixed results in this year’s science tests for grades five and eight. The percent of New London fifth-graders scoring at the proficient level increased by 7 percent, but eighth-grade scores dropped by nearly 8 percentage points. Norwich fifth-grade scores dropped by 2 percentage points, while eighth-grade levels remained the same, with 62.6 percent reaching the proficiency level.
In Norwich, the John B. Stanton School is a Commissioner’s Network School, which also brings additional state funding for targeted improvements. Science scores for fifth-graders jumped 10 percentage points this year, with 72.4 percent of students scoring at proficient levels.
Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver and Curriculum Director Joe Stefon said the limited use of CMTs this year makes it difficult to focus on specific improvements. School districts will not have results of the new Smarter Balanced tests in time to make adjustments for next spring’s tests, they said.
Stefon said the first round of the new Smarter Balanced test went more smoothly than expected, with the new test being entirely computerized and online. Systems did not slow or crash. He said the first test results will tell teachers and administrators not only how students did on the test but whether they have the technical skills to properly take them.
Unlike Norwich — where student transiency is rampant — Preston has a stable student enrollment, allowing school officials to track students over time as they progress through the school system.
Welch said he was most concerned about the low scores across the board in all three third-grade tests. Only 37.8 percent of third-graders reached goal or advanced levels in reading, while 52.6 percent reached them in math and 75.7 percent in writing.
“Third grade reading is clearly a problem area,” Welch said.
Forty third-graders took the test, with 16 of them scoring below the proficient level. Welch plans to meet with fourth-grade teachers, the district’s literacy and reading teachers to analyze the tests and help the individual students.