The 2015-16 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores district-wide place Hartford’s Math and English Language Arts performance on par with Waterbury and higher than those in New Britain and Bridgeport.  Why aren’t the results much higher?


Looking at the proportions of students who met or exceeded the SBAC proficiency standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math, respectively, only 26.9 percent of Hartford’s Grade 3-8 students met or exceeded the standard in English Language Arts (ELA), while just 16.6 percent did so in Math.


Several additional worrisome signs jumped out of the SBAC data:


  • On the English Language Arts tests, 14 schools had a lower than 1 in 5 percentage of students reaching proficiency.
  • On the Math tests, almost those same exact 14 schools had a lower than 1 in 10 percentage of students reaching proficiency.
  • From a cohort improvement perspective, in ELA both Sixth and Seventh Grade students posted gains over the previous year’s previous grades, while in Math, Fifth Grade was the only one to show growth over last year’s Fourth Grade.


So What Should We Think of All This?


Nothing can be gleaned from the SBAC results concerning the individual potential of our children, and many would argue that not much can be gleaned concerning their current level of aptitude given the fact that computer-based testing is still so new for Hartford children, compared to those in the suburbs.


But what can be gleaned is this: The opportunity gap our children in Hartford face is astounding.  They enter school already grade levels behind, and they don’t get the intense support and time they need to catch up.  This is an enormous problem that must be addressed fully in the next handful of years.  Whether it be through school consolidation and reinvestment, student centered learning expansion, placement of students in higher-performing magnet, charter, and neighborhood schools, deeper coalition work, teacher training, individual student needs tracking, giving the Board of Education new mandates, or something else, our urgency must be greater.  And for those who don’t understand what our city is up against, take a look at this picture of the opportunity gap throughout our state.  Learn more about the calculation here.


No one wants to punish teachers or schools for the chasm that exists between the opportunities and level of preparation among students in surrounding towns versus those of our own children.  It’s not about blame.  But it is about the fact that we’ve known about the opportunity gap for a very long time and still have yet to address the problems in ways that are radical.


As we stated in our annual open letter, our reality is this: If the status quo does not change in ways that are FUNDAMENTAL to how education and supports are delivered to Hartford students, we are never going to close the opportunity gap, the achievement gap, or the expectations gap.


This means we have to do different work with the money we have and rely more on data to tell us what is working and what is not.  Most people to this day still have no idea how good a job our magnet schools do with just our Hartford children.  How is it possible that these data aren’t reported out by Sheff every year to evaluate performance?  What does this say about our desire to even know what’s working?


The Bottom Line. 


In Hartford, we have a coalition for Pre-K-3, called the Hartford Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.  We have the Hartford Partnership for Student Success from K-12.  And now we have the ALL IN! coalition for high school to workforce success.  These coalitions must be tapped even deeply to ensure all supports needed by students, are given.  We must find a way to squeeze more support from all of our assets in the region.  Period.


Let’s use these latest SBAC state test results to light a sense of urgency about supporting radical change in education.  The Student Centered Learning work at the high school level is innovative, is expanding, but is only a start. Why not push mastery-based promotion into all schools in Hartford, so that we don’t keep living by the one-pace-fits-all rule?  There is incredible work happening in Hartford, yet so many of our chronically low-performing neighborhood schools remain that way.  We must try to approach the problem differently.  One book we’re looking at to jar our own perspective is called No Child Held Back™.  Let us know if you want a copy.