Concern greets students' lower test scores

New Milford educators and residents are concerned with the school district's results for the 2009 Connecticut Mastery Tests.

The state tests, given each spring, show students' progress in math, reading, writing and science in the third through eighth grades.

Fourth-graders in New Milford ranked in the 50 percentiles in math and reading and posted a 66.9 percent ranking in writing. The results represent a significant drop from 2008 CMT scores for the same grade.

Especially with this year's fourth-graders dipping from 63 percent of goal in math in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009.

"Obviously I'm disappointed considering all that we have done," said Board of Education vice chairman Thomas McSherry. "This will be one of our first issues to look at as a board when we come back from summer break."

"There are many factors here to be considered," he said. "I need to get some answers from the administration. But just looking at the numbers, it's certainly disappointing."

Students scores dropped across the board in writing, with the exceptions of fifth and third grades. The scores have former town council member Tom Pilla calling for a "community dialogue" on education.

"Over the last 10 years, between state and local taxes, over $500 million has been spent on education in this town," Pilla said. "Over the last 20 years, we've spent over $100 million on renovated and new schools. Then you see the CMT scores. It's very discouraging. The result is mediocrity."

Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote said Tuesday "principals are already looking into the downward spiral" in specific grades.

"You have to look at many factors," she explained, "how many students are English language learners; what are the class sizes; how many students are economically disadvantaged; how many have special education needs," she said. "We have an emerging population across the board."

Dr. Paddyfote said, with CMT scores having just been released, it is too soon to make a determination on exactly what steps would be taken to bring up proficiency in reading, writing and math.

"The performance is variable," she said. "We're concerned. We can improve. There is no question about that."

Dr. Paddyfote noted the fifth-grade scores were up and that was to be expected since that grade had been targeted with a technique using teacher teams. The teams met for discussion and analysis of data regarding student performance.

Those brainstorming sessions were designed to come up with corrective measures to improve individual students' weaknesses.

Fifth-grade students increased from 63 percent at goal to 76 percent in reading and also improved their writing and science scores.

"This is proof positive that this teamwork by teachers is effective," Dr. Paddyfote said. "It is part of our strategy to launch these teaching teams in every school. But you have to have resources behind that."

"Teachers have to have time set aside to meet and discuss," she concluded. "We've got to replicate that success in all our grades."