VERNON — Public school achievement data released Thursday shows a sharp drop in the percentage of students meeting state proficiency standards in English, math and science. The data shows significant decline in both urban and suburban school districts, large and small, and at multiple age levels.
Just 49 percent of students in grades 3-8 met the state standard for performance in English last year, compared to 56 percent in 2018-19, according to data released today. 40 percent met minimum standards for mathematics, compared to 48 percent in 2018-19.
These numbers represent the lowest percentage of students to meet state mathematics standards since 2014-15, and the lowest to meet state standards in English since before 2014-15.
The data also shows that 173 out of 195 school districts reported a drop in the percentage of students who met standards for math and English.
At a press conference Thursday, Commissioner of the Department of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker said she was encouraged to see growth in student learning despite the effects of COVID and periodic quarantines through the previous school year.
“The results show signs of learning acceleration and recovery. However, student achievement still lags the pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “The 2021-22 results illustrate that educators in many districts and schools are actively contracting the negative effects of the pandemic by implementing evidence-based and creative strategies to engage students and to accelerate learning.”
Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for the state’s Department of Education, said that student growth in 2021-22 for all of the elementary grades and most of the middle school grades was more rapid than in 2018-19
But the Department of Education estimates that even with that growth, students in grades 4 and 5 are lagging by 2-3 months compared to where they would have been had there not been a pandemic. The state estimates that middle schoolers are between 5 and 7 months behind in English and “a year or more” behind in math skills.
Students designated as “high needs” — children in special education, children who are learning English and children from low-income families — had a greater drop in scores than other students. “High needs” students saw a 3.9 percent drop in English scores and a 5 percent drop in math scores compared to before the pandemic. On average, other student scores dropped 2.9 percent in English and 3.8 percent in math.
Children with high needs were already behind their peers — around 23 points lower in math and 21 points lower in English compared with students without high needs.
Charter schools located in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford saw some of the largest declines in the percentage of students performing to state standards in math and English when compared to pre-pandemic levels. But despite that drop, they still reported a higher overall percentage of students achieving or exceeding state standards in mathematics and English compared to their surrounding districts .
Elm City College Preparatory School in New Haven dropped from 65.4 percent to 48.6 percent of its students achieving proficiency in mathematics between 2018-19 and 2021-22. But in the New Haven Public Schools, only 42 percent of students reached state proficiency in mathematics last year.
Ruben Filipe, executive director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association, suggested the drop in student proficiency could in part be explained by the smaller size of charter schools, meaning that if a handful of students had a drop in performance, the overall percentage of students achieving above the state standard would drop precipitously.
“The unfortunate reality is that there was a significant amount of learning loss across all public schools,” he said. “And there are certainly schools in the sector who had more of a challenge than others.”
Felipe said that both traditional public and charter schools were suffering from the severe teacher shortages, and that each school faced its own challenges during the pandemic. He also said that the fact that charter schools continued to have higher scores than the nearby traditional public schools was a testament to their work, especially since they had, until last year, received less funding from the state than traditional public schools.
Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich was one of the few school districts that showed gains in the number of students performing at state level. Executive Director Ellen Retelle said that when the pandemic hit, the district hired additional online teachers, tutors for every grade level and invested in a number of online programs. She said they also started a homework club for 7th and 8th graders — “which they actually attended.”
Superintendents at the press conference said they were doing a number of things to improve student learning. Joe Macary, superintendent of schools in Vernon, said the district had hired additional interventionists to work with students and instructional coaches to help teachers. Winchester Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady-Shanley said her district focused on providing afterschool programs and hands-on in-school activities like cooking, science and enlisting a set designer to help students make masks. Nate Quesnel, superintendent of schools in East Hartford, said his district hired “acceleration specialists” to work with specific students that might need extra help to catch up to their peers.
Russell-Tucker said that the Department of Education was also conducting a survey to look at the extent of the teacher shortage in the state. As of Thursday, she said, 69 school districts had replied to the survey, and had reported over 400 open teacher positions and over 570 open paraprofessional positions.
Gopalakrishnan said that middle school math was a particular concern, and that the state was developing a model curriculum to help teachers, and Russell-Tucker said that the state was particularly focused on attendance and investing in special education and making sure homeless students were being supported.
“There’s a lot for us to accomplish,” she said.