NAUGATUCK — When it comes to Naugatuck’s results on the SAT this spring, Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke has a straightforward message.
“It’s nowhere near where we need to be. We can do better. … We need to do better because our kids deserve us to do better,” Locke said.
The state recently released performance data on the SAT taken by 11th-graders this spring. The college entrance exam was adopted four years ago as the standard by which Connecticut measures English language arts and math proficiency in high school.
In Naugatuck, 46.6% of 11th-graders at Naugatuck High School met or exceeded the state standard in English, which is down from 52.8% in 2018. Statewide, 62% of students met or exceeded the standard in 2019.
In math, 19% of Naugatuck 11th-graders met or exceeded the benchmark, which is down from 21.6% in 2018. Statewide, 41% of students met or exceeded the standard in 2019.
The percentage of Naugatuck students meeting or exceeding the standard in both subjects has remained basically flat compared to 2016, when 47.8% met or exceeded the mark in English and 19.8% did so in math. The percentage of Naugatuck students meeting or exceeding the benchmark in English increased 7.1 percentage points last year, before dropping this year.
“This is an instructional and curriculum problem of practice, and we are attacking it,” said Locke about the district’s performance.
The district has partnered with Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES), a Regional Educational Service Center (RESC), to hire consultants to work with the math department on the best instructional practices, Locke said.
Locke also pointed to the district’s partnership with the RISE Network, a non-profit organization. Under the partnership, the RISE Network will provide two coordinators that will help freshmen make the transition to high school. The partnership, which is funded by a grant, is designed to help make sure freshmen end their first high school year where they need to be academically.
Naugatuck High School Principal John Harris said officials are working to align the math curriculum more with the Common Core State Standards, which are what the SAT is based on. He said officials are also going to delve into what type of questions students struggle with and work to make sure students a have a better conceptual understanding of math problems.
The SAT results statewide showed a wide achievement gap between white and minority students. The performance gap is evident in Naugatuck, which has become more diverse and has seen the number of students that receive free and reduced lunch increase over recent years.
In Naugatuck, 55.4% of white students met or exceeded the standard in English compared to 29.3% of Hispanic students. In math, 21.1% of white students met or exceeded the standard compared to 9.3% of Hispanic students. The state didn’t release the percentage of other minority students in Naugatuck who met or exceeded the standards. The state suppresses data when there are too few test-takers to adequately protect privacy.
“If it was an easy answer, we would have figured it out,” said Harris about closing the achievement gap.
Locke and Harris pointed to an equity initiative as one approach to help mitigate the achievement gap and improve overall performance.
The district is in the second year of the equity initiative. The idea is to train educators to understand how their own upbringing as well as poverty and cultural differences can influence — regardless of intent — how they view students in their classrooms and their expectations for students.
“As we have seen a demographic shift in our community, we need to make sure that our instruction is culturally responsive and responding to the changing needs of our students,” Locke said.
Locke said roughly 30 percent of students in the district aren’t where they need be academically when they start kindergarten, and have further to grow compared to their suburban peers. She said educators focus on student growth and have to get students to learn more to improve achievement and close the gap between white and minority students.
“It’s not about waving a magic wand or some great new curriculum,” she said. “It’s about every single day in every classroom kids have to learn more. Really simply, that’s what we try to focus on here. Making our teachers the best they can be for every kid in the class.”