Focus on math pays off


NAUGATUCK — Three years after implementing a strategic plan for borough schools that put a focus on improving math scores, the data shows it’s working.

The percentage of borough students at or above grade level in math on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) — a state-wide test administered to students in grades three through eight — increased to 41.2 percent in 2016-17, according to data Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke presented to the Board of Education this month.

In 2015-16, 32.1 percent of students were at that level, up from 29.1 percent in 2014-15.

Consequently, the percentage of students significantly below grade level in math and in need of interventions as measured by the SBAC dropped from 37.3 percent in 2014-15 to 29.3 percent in 2016-17.

The results of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessments, which measure the growth of students in kindergarten to ninth grade three times a school year, show more students are meeting their projected growth in math. In 2014-15, 57 percent of students met their projected growth. That grew to 69 percent this past school year.

“We really have been focusing on math. To realize this growth is exciting,” Locke said.

School officials implemented the strategic plan in October of 2014 — Locke’s first year in the district. The plan put an emphasis on improving math scores through educational and financial investments — in the ballpark of $250,000, according to Locke. The investments included a six-year math program, new curriculum and professional development for teachers.

“It really shows that our investments in math are really paying dividends,” said school board Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin at last week’s board meeting.

While math scores have grown over the past three years, reading scores have remained relatively flat.

Overall, reading scores are higher than the math scores. The percentage of students at or above grade level in reading on the SBAC has been at basically 48 percent the past three years. The percentage of students meeting their project growth based on the NWEA has been between 65 and 67 percent over that same time.

The percentage of students below grade level in reading on the SBAC increased, though, from 25.6 percent in 2014-15 to 27.9 percent last school year.

Locke said officials knew students performed better at reading and focused their attention on making up ground in math.

“We’re pretty confident we’ve closed that gap now,” said Locke, adding the focus will now spread to all content areas.

The strategic plan is about more than test scores. An element of the plan concentrates on improving school climate, including increasing attendance and reducing disciplinary issues that result in suspensions.

The average daily attendance among students has been roughly 95 percent the past three years, a percentage Locke would like to see climb to between 96 and 98 percent.

The percentage of students that are chronically absent — defined by missing 10 percent of the days a student should be in school — dropped slightly from 14.1 percent in 2015-16 to 13.5 percent this past school year.

The plan also keeps track of chronic absenteeism among teachers, which dropped from 13.5 percent in 2014-15 to 7 percent in 2016-17.

Locke said teachers are the district’s most valuable resource and biggest investment, and they need to be in the classroom.

The number of disciplinary issues has fluctuated from 759 in 2014-15 down to 657 in 2015-16 and back up to 695 last school year. The number of chronic discipline issues — the same student repeatedly getting in trouble — dropped from 92 in 2014-15 to 65 in 2016-17.

The strategic plan uses results on a family survey sent every spring to parents and guardians of Naugatuck students to help guide it.

The results, based on 1,740 responses, this year were overwhelmingly positive with a slight overall improvement from last year, particularly in the categories of collaboration and supportive relationships, according to a news release from the district.

Locke said officials will develop a new strategic plan for the next three years. While’s she’s happy with the growth shown since 2014, she said there is still work to do in the district.

“I hope as district we could continue to evolve,” she said.