Connecticut Students Make Gains on Smarter Balanced Assessment, But Large Opportunity Gaps Remain

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Connecticut students in grades 3 through 8 made gains on the statewide achievement test known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, or SBAC, according to 2015-2016 results released Thursday by the State Department of Education.

Test results from last year (2014-15) represented a baseline for Connecticut students on the SBAC, which focuses on the knowledge and skills students will need to succeed in jobs and in college. This year (2015-2016) was the second time that Connecticut students took the SBAC, so Thursday’s results provide a first-time look at achievement growth. The test is administered once a year to students in grades 3‐8 and over 97 percent of students took the test in 2015-16. This year, all 11th-grade students took the SAT as the statewide test, and SDE released those results on August 3.

The SBAC and the new SAT are both aligned to the Connecticut Core Standards, which means they provide better insight on how well Connecticut’s students are progressing toward college‐ and career‐ready expectations.

Jennifer Alexander, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), praised the improved student performance on SBAC and also called for continued work to close opportunity gaps that will hurt Connecticut in the long-term.

“These results provide critical data to know how well all students are progressing toward mastering the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed. The gains we see now are testament to the power of what students can achieve with support, accountability and high expectations from adults,” Alexander said. “At the same time, these results call on all of us to continue working to close our large opportunity gaps, especially since the population of students of color in Connecticut continues to grow.”

Overall, results show:

  • The percentage of students meeting or exceeding the achievement standard statewide was 55.7 percent in ELA (a gain of 3.3 percentage points) and 44.0 percent in math (a gain of 3.9 percentage points).

  • Fewer students are meeting or exceeding standards in math than in ELA across all grade and student groups.  We see the same pattern in SAT results, in which only 39.3 percent of 11th grade students met or exceeded the math achievement standard, compared to 65.0 percent in ELA.

  • About half of the Alliance Districts improved at a rate faster than the state, with four districts — Bloomfield, East Haven, West Haven, and Windham — showing improvement gains of 5 percentage points or higher in both ELA and math.

  • Several districts and schools of choice made dramatic gains from last year. Overall, 15 school districts, including two public charter schools, made double-digit percentage point gains in ELA, and 19 districts, including two public charter schools, made double-digit percentage point gains in math.

  • Large opportunity gaps between the performance of students of color and white students persist, reflecting a need for the state to continue to aggressively address the problem. For example, only 3 out of 10 (31.4 percent) African-American students or Hispanic students (33.2 percent) met or exceeded expectations in ELA, compared to nearly seven out of 10 (68.6 percent) white students.

A few Commissioner’s Network schools — such as John B. Stanton School in Norwich, Walsh School in Waterbury, and Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven — that showed promising gains, but the majority of Commissioner’s Network schools showed stagnant or even decreased student performance. In several Network schools, fewer than 5 percent of students are meeting or exceeding achievement levels in math.

“It is time for us to review the effectiveness of the Network as the law is currently written to ensure that the millions of public dollars already invested in the program and the millions more we are slated to spend in the future will generate better gains for students and lead to successful school turnarounds

“While the overall improvements give us reason for optimism, the dramatic gaps in student performance for the state’s highest-need children —  both on SBAC and the SAT — indicate that we still have much work to do,” Alexander said.

“Closing opportunity gaps is critical for the future of our children and our state. More than 70 percent of jobs by the year 2020 will require some education beyond high school. At the same time, nearly one-third of Connecticut’s working-age population, and nearly half of its youngest workers (those 25-29 years old) will be people of color.

“Our state has to fix the disconnect between student readiness and what our future economy will require of them. Our knowledge-based economy will be driven by science, technology, engineering and math. As it stands, our overall student performance in these areas don’t jibe with the reality facing our students — that is a big gap that must be addressed.”