Norwich student test scores well below statewide averages

Norwich — City elementary school students are showing steady progress on the statewide standardized tests, while city middle school students continue to struggle, with scores well below state averages and dropping in most categories.

The state released results of the 2017-18 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests Thursday in a news release that stated the percent of students meeting the proficiency benchmark improved statewide at all grade levels.

The online tests have been given to students in grades three through eight in language arts and math since the 2015-16 school year in Connecticut. The tests are aligned with Connecticut’s core curriculum standards. In 2017-18, statewide English language arts scores ranged from 53 percent to 58 percent of students reaching proficiency level. In math, statewide scores ranged from 42 percent to 53 percent reaching proficiency.

Norwich test results showed students lagged behind the state averages across the board, one reason the school district receives state Alliance District grants for improvement, said Assistant Superintendent Thomas Baird, who in the past served as curriculum director. Middle school grades were especially poor, ranging from 22 to 26 percent proficiency in English language arts and just 11 to 19 percent reaching proficiency in math.

Elementary grades three through five fared better, with 41 percent of students reaching proficiency in all grade levels and math scores ranging from 25 to 43 percent reaching proficiency in math.

The school system overhauled elementary school curriculum and instituted full-day kindergarten several years ago, Baird said. The current fifth-grade class received the most benefit of the changes, and it showed in the test scores over time, Baird said.

“We continue to really struggle at the middle school,” Baird said. “That’s where our urgency is, and we’re engaging in complete curriculum overhaul in the next few years.”

Because of budget cuts, Norwich converted Teachers’ Memorial Middle School into a sixth-grade academy and sent all seventh- and eighth-graders to Kelly Middle School at the start of the 2015-16 school year — the same year the SBAC tests were launched. Kelly, with more than 700 students, experienced behavioral problems along with low SBAC test scores, and Baird said sixth-graders and seventh-graders might have been affected by grade transitions.

“We know transitions cause a dip,” he said of student performance.

At the start of this school year, Norwich restructured the two middle schools into magnet-themed schools for grades six, seven and eight using a $4 million federal grant. Baird said he expects the changeover to make a difference at both the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School and the Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School.

Baird said the school district also saw high turnover among middle school math teachers in recent years. He said the district made “strong hires” at both schools, including hiring former New London math coordinator Michelle Combs at Kelly mid-year last year.

“I’m really encouraged by the change in the middle schools with the magnet (themes),” Baird said. “Kelly already feels dramatically different. Both schools have complete overhaul in their programming.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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