Elementary students in the Woodbridge School District performed well in 2016 standardized tests, improving their scores by some 10% in math, and close to 7% in reading and writing, compared to the previous year’s results. “The most important part is the growth,” said School Supt. Robert Gilbert at the September Board of Education meeting, when he congratulated the team at Beecher Road School for this margin of improvement.
Assistant Principal Analisa Sherman introduced the latest SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) test results, showing how the percentage of students who achieved levels 3 or 4 (“meets” or “exceeds” the standard) had increased from 73.6 in 2015 to 80.1 this year in language arts; and from 61.1% to 71.2 in mathematics.
Only science is being tested using the old CMTs (Connecticut Mastery Test) in grades 5 and 8. Of the local fifth graders, 94% achieved a passing grade or higher, “one of the highest scores across the state,” according to Sherman. “We are very proud of all our students and our staff,” she added.
At the Board of Education meeting, where the results were introduced and applauded, science coordinator Caron Stebinger said humbly, “it depends on the cohort,” in other words, students in some years perform better than others. Even so, Sherman in her presentation included comments from an unnamed intermediate teacher and comments from a middle school teacher, saying how in their experience, local students are better prepared every year.
The new online assessment tool SBAC was created after introduction of the Common Core standards. The SBAC test is being administered in the spring in grades 3 to 8 in language arts and mathematics. In math, the emphasis is on problem solving and conceptual understanding, Sherman said. The language arts portion tests not only reading and writing, but listening and research skills.
Many school districts saw a significant drop in their achievement scores when the SBAC was first introduced. With this year’s results, Woodbridge’s standing in its District Reference Group (DRG B) is back to fifth out of 21 in both language arts and math (in 2015: 9th in language arts, 12th in math).
Like the Common Core curriculum, SBAC had its detractors when it was first introduced. Some parents decided to boycott the test, but districts are held accountable for providing a full picture of student achievement. “Ninety-five percent is a set target,” Gilbert said when asked about the local participation rate. It’s a state-wide as well as a national target, and will be reflected in the school accountability report. If a school does not reach that level of participation, it may lose points in the ranking index and appear as lower-performing than it actually is. Board of Education members were relieved to hear that at 95.6% the district was well within the required participation rate.
Even so, Gilbert emphasized that “we are NOT making it a practice of teaching to this test.” The results are used to measure how the students are performing and refine curriculum accordingly, he said. This year’s test results show that the kids are more comfortable with taking the test, and that the curriculum work is showing positive signs, he said.
Teachers are also watching the test results, as student achievement makes up 45 percent of their own evaluation. However, the state Department of Education suspended the use of SBAC and other standardized tests for this purpose. In Woodbridge, student achievement is still part of the teacher evaluation, but they are using internal data, Gilbert said.
The SBAC is a computer-based test. Irrespective of grade level, students’ answers determine the follow-up question. If the student answered a certain question correctly, the next question may be building on that.
School Supt. Robert Gilbert called the test results “very, very significant, favorable and impressive” student achievement results. However, he also said the results provide just one snapshot in time, saying it is only one measure among several to assess student achievement.
Last year, the district also introduced the STAR universal screening, which is also used in Orange and Bethany and in the Amity district. Like the SBAC, STAR is an online test. However, it is much shorter and administered three times throughout the year. The teacher can see the results as soon as everyone has taken the test, which allows the teacher to react immediately and adapt the instruction accordingly.
The state recommends that schools use a universal screening tool as one way to inform instruction, Sherman said. While SBAC doesn’t start until third grade, the STAR test is being administered starting in Kindergarten; although it’s not until the winter that kindergartners participate in the screening for the first time.
Amity Supt. Dr. Charles Dumais welcomed the district-wide STAR initiative. It will allow the high school access to several years of comparable data from all three member towns. “That is very helpful in terms of developing programs for kids,” he said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent