Last month, the Connecticut State Department of Education released the results of the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for the 2012 school year.

The CMT assesses approximately 250,000 students on their application of skills in the content areas of math, reading and writing, in grades 3 – 8 and science for grades 5 and 8. Both the CMT and the CAPT have five levels of achievement that students are divided into; for purposes of reporting the testing data in aggregate. The five categories are: below basic, basic, proficient, goal, and advanced.

The 2012 CMT results, for grade 5 showed that fewer students in Connecticut were below proficient in science, reading and writing, than they were the previous year. However, in math, the number of students achieving a below proficient score increased slightly from the previous year. The results for grade 8 indicated that there were fewer students performing below proficient in all subject areas, than there were the year before. The 2012 CAPT tests showed mixed results when compared to the 2011 results, but overall improvement since the baseline year of 2007.

When the aggregate data is further dissected to account for income, the data shows that more than twice the number of high-income students achieve at or above goal, than their low-income peers. While this significant and concerning gap exists, data shows that the gap is narrowing and some improvements have been achieved.

Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor has stated, “We’re pleased to see that there are signs of progress in our schools. That said — while schools are moving more students into Proficient- and Goal-level performance, significant gaps in achievement continue between economically disadvantaged students and their peers. So there is reason for optimism regarding our system’s ability to advance, as well as cause for continuing concern. We need to work together to implement the reforms and initiatives we’ve recently launched in order to build on areas of progress and remedy the persistent problems in our schools.”

Complete state, district and school level data is available on the State Department of Education’s online reports website at www.ctreports.com.

While it is easy to get bogged down in the data, the scoring rubric, and the various analytic tools that construct the data, this topic behooves some basic questions that parents should be asking of themselves and of their schools:

As a parent, do you know how your school is doing in regards to these tests? Have you received your child’s individual test results and have you had the opportunity to discuss any questions or issues that you might have with their teacher? Do you care and should you care about standardized testing?

I will not attempt to provide answers to any of these difficult questions. However, regardless of your feelings towards standardized tests and the excess of issues involved with the creation, taking, and scoring of such tests, the data does provide useful, aggregate trends to help us track how our institutions of public education are serving our children.

Two other issues that are food for thought and topics worth further discussion:

Property values are directly related to how well towns and districts perform on these tests. So, if your child attends a private school, or is homeschooled and you believe that these tests don’t impact your life in some way, think again, because they do.

Lastly, one hypothesis about what accounts for the narrowing of the achievement gap and the improvement in student data is preschool. Students who attend a preschool program or who have exposure to a preschool education are more likely to be prepared when entering kindergarten and are more likely to score better than their peers who did not participate in preschool, this trend has been proven to continue through grade 8.

I applaud Connecticut students, teachers, principals, and the Connecticut State Department of Education, for making improvements in our state education and better serving our students. While there is always more work to be done, it is good to know that we are moving in the right direction.

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