As Predicted Waterbury Test Scores Get Worse, Not Better! Hispanic and Black Students Lag Behind Peers…

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On the front page of the July 26th edition of the Republican American, a story was titled with a misleading headline. It said, “City schools see gains by Hispanics” and the story  highlighted “higher scores earned by black and Hispanic students.”  Once alerted the paper acknowledged the misstep and the next day printed a small correction.  We feel compelled to explain the test scores in greater detail.

To be clear this is false.  From 2017 to 2018 both Black and Hispanic average scores on the SAT decreased in ELA and Math. 

One important distinction to make when analyzing this data is to separate percentages of students at grade level and the average scores of each subgroup. By doing this we can tell a more robust story about student performance.  The data below shows us that except for white students in Math (448 to 449) all student groups scored lower on the SAT in both Math and ELA from 2017 to 2018.

As community-level advocates pushing our schools to do better and advocates for policies that lead to more equity we are more concerned with trends and the long-term implications of mandates, programming choices, and accountability measures than one year of test results.  We believe in using multiple types of data and using different metrics to measure student, school, and district success.  In this case, by looking at our three-year trends we can see a disturbing trend of systemic failures to address the root causes of poor student performance. We warned the school district back in 2015 that this would happen in our report School District Improvement Plans: Are Black and Hispanic Students the Miner’s Canary? 

“The recommended plans for ELA content are homogenized and bereft of any cross-cultural elements.  It is our fear that without an intervention these plans will widen the achievement and opportunity gaps.” 

~Dr. Arlene Garcia, Chantae K. Campbell, & Robert M. Goodrich, 2015

Our recommendations are not risky or uncommon.   Furthermore, the district staff responsible for creating and implementing the 2015 plan have to explain which parts worked and those that did not, and why.  Our board of education must start playing a more assertive role when holding our education professionals accountable for their choices.  We have to stop the experimentation being done on Black and Brown children in our schools.

In most cases we would be asking for greater rates of improvement but Waterbury scores are decreasing.  This is a crisis. 

What is most important for us and for our community to understand is that all of Waterbury student scores on tests like the SAT are far below state averages.  Comparing 2016 to 2018  we can see that both Black and Hispanic students in Waterbury are less likely to score at or above grade level expectation than their peers statewide.  The gaps between Hispanic students statewide and Waterbury’s Hispanic students has grown. See  Connecticut Voices for Children’s latest report The Latino-White Education Gap in Connecticut: Indicators of Inequality in Access and Outcomes for a deeper dive.

We accept that there are myriad ways of measuring student success besides test scores.  We also understand there are many ways to improve student outcomes.  Many of which are low-cost and have high impact.  One of those recommendations would be to:

Stop using exclusionary discipline policies to manage school climate.  Waterbury students lost 15,000 days of instruction due to being suspended in 2015-16.  The disparities are horrific, especially at our high schools.

Other recommendations we have made include:

Develop a stratgey to utilize our districts human capital more effectively.  Defining  who are our most effective educators by what characteristics these teachers have will assist in reruitment, hiring, placement, and development. As a district its one of our greatest weaknesses.

Reverse the current focus on content and curricular alignment in order to focus on a liberating pedagogy for both teachers and students. This process will build autonomy for teachers and allow student experiences to be the driver of innovation.

Rebuild teacher assessments to include data-driven analysis for achievement and discipline gaps based on race, gender, and disability.

Empower students by allowing them to inform the decision-making on classroom rules and class assignments.

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*All data unless specifically designated on the report(s) was accessed via EdSight
EdSight is an education data portal that integrates information from over 30 different sources – some reported by districts and others from external sources. Information is available on key performance measures that make up the Next Generation Accountability System, as well as dozens of other topics, including school finance, special education, staffing levels and school enrollment.


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