STAMFORD — Board of Education members questioned the resources available for students and accountability for schools given new data showing substantial numbers of students falling behind.
At a Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Associate Superintendent of Schools Amy Beldotti presented mid-year data on the number of high schoolers passing their classes, and on the percentage of elementary and middle schoolers who are reading at grade level.
The data shows that, overall, about half of the district’s 9th and 10th graders are considered “on-track” – meaning they are passing 6 or more classes. About a fifth of 9th graders and nearly a quarter of 10th graders are considered “on-track” but with “attendance concerns.”
The data shows that about 70 percent of high school students who identify as Asian or white are considered “on-track” compared to just 50 percent of students identifying as Black or Latino. Across races, about one in four students is flagged as having “attendance concerns.”
Board member Becky Hamman asked what measures were being taken to keep track of the students who are struggling.
“Who’s tracking these kids and why do we have, at this point, almost 50 percent of the Black or African American kids struggling? It doesn’t look good,” said Hamman. “That was the strongest indicator there going, ‘Okay, we’re not meeting our goals there, are we?’”
Board member Jackie Pioli questioned how it was possible for the high schoolers who are failing multiple classes, particularly those in special education or students learning English, to continue to struggle despite having a team of educators working with them. She pointed out that 160 special education high school students were considered “off-track” and another 160 were considered “almost on-track” — meaning that half the special education population at the high school were not passing the number of courses they would need to graduate.
“Even with a [special education] support team, [English language learner] support team, they’re still not getting where they need to be,” said Pioli.
Board Chair Jackie Heftman pointed out that Stamford takes students not only from other districts, but from other countries where the quality of education they have received can vary greatly.
“A lot of students come to us on a day-to-day basis — some have never, ever had school,” said Heftman. “Some are just behind because of … the system where they came to us from.”
Reading data at the elementary school level shows that 45 percent of students in grades K-5 are reading below the state standard, including nearly one-third of students defined as reading “well-below benchmark.”
The data indicates that much of this shortfall is driven by students learning English, about 80 percent of whom are reading below benchmark level and ⅔ “well below benchmark.”
Among 6-8 graders, just over half are reading below grade level, with about a quarter reading far below grade level.
Heftman said that part of the challenge was that many of the struggling students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. She said they needed to put more resources into the schools that had higher numbers of students with more needs.
“It’s really hard to overcome the effects of poverty,” said Heftman. “Nobody seems to be able to come up with – what is the answer, what do we have to do to level the playing field? Otherwise, we’re never going to change the numbers.”
But Pioli pushed back against the idea that factors outside of school were entirely responsible for student failure to achieve.
“I grew up in public housing. Every kid that I went to school with — we could all read. We all graduated. We all excelled,” said Pioli. “I don’t know that it’s always based on their home life, their mom works two jobs, and if they receive free and reduced lunch.”
Board member Josh Esses said he’d like to use the data to evaluate which administrators and teachers are most effective at helping students achieve. Beldotti said this was already happening at the school level, through mid year and end of year teacher evaluations.
But Hamman questioned whether the district was being completely transparent about the data it presented. She asked for data over multiple years to show which schools have had low scores over time.
“We’re not holding some of these schools accountable,” said Hamman.
Beldotti said that the data was only a single snapshot in time, and said that it might not show where students have made a large amount of growth, since the assessment became more difficult as the year progressed.
Superintendent Tamu Lucero said that what would ultimately make the difference is the district’s ability to provide students with resources, a process that would be aided by the curriculum audit and professional development for teachers.
Staff cuts, Lucero said, were also an issue. She said that she has gone to building administrators and asked them what positions the district has cut in prior years that the administrators feel are necessary to make the schools function.
“We need to be able to speak with one voice to the Board of [Representatives] and Finance: This is what we need to be able to run Stamford Public Schools. If you want this [data] to change, this is what we need,” said Lucero.