State releases new rankings for schools

A new rating system for schools throughout the state showed that the Naugatuck school system came close to the statewide target, while Region 16 exceeded the mark.

State officials unveiled last week a new accountability system that ranks schools and districts on a host of factors beyond standardized test scores and graduation rates. Access to arts education, readiness for college, physical fitness, chronic absenteeism and college entry rates are among the new factors.

The bulk of the new formula still rests with performance on the state standardized tests, with this year’s rankings coming from the 2014-15 school year using data from the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests administered in 2015.

High-school ratings consider four-year graduation rates, six-year graduation rates, enrollment in college, and career programs such as Advanced Placement courses or internships. The high-school calculations also include college and career preparation as measured by numbers of students hitting benchmarks on important exams, like the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.

Beginning next year, the state will factor growth in scores as well as percentages of students meeting grade-level targets.

Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke described using more than standardized test scores to measure a school or district as a “step in the right direction.” She added that a growth metric is an important assessment, as well.

State officials set a statewide target of 75 on the new accountability index for districts and schools to meet.

Naugatuck scored a 70 on the accountably index as a district. Four of Naugatuck’s nine schools — Andrew Avenue School, Hop Brook Elementary School, Maple Hill School and Western School — exceeded the target of 75. The remaining five schools fell under the target with Naugatuck High School having the lowest accountability index at 64.

Locke said since this is the first year of the accountability index, borough school officials are learning as they delve into the figures. She said in general officials don’t want to get too excited or overreact too much to the scores, since it’s the first year.

Locke said there are some outliers that stand out, such as chronic absenteeism at City Hill Middle School, which is above the state average, and the fitness rate Andrew Avenue School, which fell below the state average. She said these are areas that officials can look into and address immediately.

Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, scored an 83 overall on the accountability index with each individual school surpassing the statewide target, as well. Long River Middle School had the lowest accountability index coming in at 75.49.

Based on test performance and the new accountability index, the state identified 40 “turnaround schools” and 96 “focus schools.”

Turnaround schools are the lowest-performing schools under the new accountability formula, along with those high schools with a six-year graduation rate of less than 70 percent, as measured by six-year cohorts ending in the two most recent years.

Focus schools are schools where the “high-needs subgroup” achieves among the lowest math, reading or science scores on state-required standardized tests. This category also includes high schools where the high-needs subgroup’s six-year graduation rate falls below 70 percent for consecutive cohorts.

The high-needs group is made up of a school’s English language learners, special education students, and students on free or reduced lunch.

No schools in Naugatuck were labeled as a turnaround or focus school. Aside from having no turnaround or focus schools, Locke pointed out that Andrew Avenue was one of 83 schools in the state where a high-needs subgroup outperformed the district as a whole. In this case, the high-needs subgroup at Andrew Avenue scored higher in math than the district performance index.

Locke credited high expectations for all students and the work of administrators and teachers with the district not having any turnaround or focus schools and the success of the high-needs subgroup at Andrew Avenue in math.

In Region 16, Woodland Regional High School was deemed a focus school.

The state classified Woodland as a focus school due to the high-needs subgroup’s accountability index score for math, which was 34.3.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin acknowledged the district needs to and will do a better job with these students. However, he took issue with how the state presented Woodland as a “focus school.”

“I think the way it was presented it gives an incorrect perception of the quality of the school Woodland is,” Yamin said.

Woodland’s accountability index score was 77.3 overall.

Yamin said the high-needs subgroup comprises 34 of Woodland’s roughly 700 students. He added that the score is based on the SBAC, which isn’t going to be used for high school juniors going forward.

The SBAC tests were replaced this year with the SATs for all high school juniors. The SATs were given to all high school juniors March 2 during school.

“We need to increase our expectations for all our kids,” Yamin said.

Focus and turnaround schools are supposed to get more state oversight. Many already receive heightened oversight and assistance because of their designation as an “alliance district.” Alliance districts are the state’s lowest 30 performing districts, which receive extra state funding for approved reform efforts.

Region 16 is not an alliance district. Region 16 Curriculum Director Barbara Peck said last week it was unclear exactly what the “focus school” classification means for Woodland. She said the district will continue to concentrate on these students to meet their needs and help them achieve at their highest level.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.