The state’s new school accountability scoring system, which replaces the “No Child Left Behind” standards, places some Ridgefield schools among the top in Connecticut.
The new system replaces the old one in the controversial federal law, from which the U.S. Department of Education granted the state a waiver in May.
Under the federal law, performance expectations were gradually ramped up until eventually all students, general and special education students alike, were expected to pass their states’ standardized tests in 2014.
Even for affluent, high performing schools, keeping pace was problematic.
While Ridgefield’s general education scores had kept up with No Child Left Behind standards, the district was behind overall the because of lower than required scores for special education students — those with learning handicaps. If the law was kept in place, schools could eventually have been penalized for not keeping up with standards.
Under the new system, which separates and tracks several typically underperforming subgroups of students, Ridgefield’s schools are overall rated very highly, some earning “distinction” in different categories.
All Ridgefield schools, even the ones that weren’t on the state’s list of schools earning “distinction,” had similarly high scores:
• Veterans Park Elementary, 93.9 out of 100
• Ridgebury Elementary, 93.1
• Farmingville Elementary, 93.9
• Scotland Elementary, 94.2
• Branchville Elementary, 95.0
• Barlow Mountain Elementary, 95.1
• East Ridge Middle School, 95.3
• Scotts Ridge Middle School, 95.4
• Ridgefield High School, 93.7
The district-wide score was 94.6.
Several Ridgefield schools made the state’s list of schools earning “distinction” for overall performance, improvement, and having high performing subgroups.
Branchville Elementary, Scotland Elementary, East Ridge Middle School, Scotts Ridge Middle School and Ridgefield High School were among the schools of distinction in overall performance.
Ridgebury Elementary School placed among the schools that showed the most progress among schools that met the state targeted score of 88 out of 100.
The high school was also acknowledged for having one of the highest performing group of students who receive free or reduced lunch — one of five traditionally underperforming subgroups the state tracks.
“Our schools are comparable in terms of academic strengths and areas for improvement,” Superintendent Deborah Low wrote in a memo to parents explaining the new state criteria.
“The classifications of ‘Schools of Distinction’ and ‘Focus Schools’ in Ridgefield are driven by the performance of our sub-groups, most notably Special Education, English Language Learners, and Free/Reduced Lunch students.
“Our sub-group populations are small; for example, at the elementary school, they range from as few as three or four students to up to 20–25 students. When subgroup (or combined groups) populations are small, score points can vary widely, and thus appear more dramatic — in either direction — than they really are, especially compared to the whole school.
“No matter the size of a subgroup, it is essential to improve the achievement of our high needs students, regardless of which school they attend. We currently provide a range of support services and interventions, and continually work to explore and expand strategies based on student needs and research on best practices.”
In an effort to better identify and curb the state’s massive achievement gap, the state Department of Education also tracks students with disabilities, students who speak English as a second language, black students and Hispanic students.
Veterans Park was flagged as a “focus school” because its 22 “high needs” students from those subgroups performed poorly as a group on the CMT, and the school receives Title I funding, which is set aside to close the achievement gap.
The focus group category is meant to include schools where underperforming subgroups might have been “masked” by high overall performance, which Veterans Park, like all Ridgefield schools had.
To calculate the scores, each student gets an “individual performance index” (IPI) score, based on state thresholds:
• Goal or advanced, 100 points
• Proficient, 67 points
• Basic, 33 points
• Below basic, 0 points
For some special education students who take the “Modified Assessment System” test, scores are weighted:
• Goal, 100 points
• Proficient, 50 points
• Basic, 0 points
The school then gets a “school performance index” (SPI), which is the average of all of its students’ individual scores. The statewide goal SPI is 88 points, a score which all of Ridgefield’s schools exceed.
Taking subgroup scores into account, some schools are put on lists including turnaround schools, review schools, focus schools and schools of distinction.
Ridgefield’s schools that earned overall distinction had an SPI of 88 or better, scored among the top 10% of the schools statewide, and had an achievement gap of fewer than 10 SPI points for the majority of their subgroups.
Several other schools in Ridgefield’s District Reference Group A (DRG A) of similarly affluent peer towns made the state’s list of “distinction” schools.
Redding and Wilton High School had among the highest performing subgroup of students with disabilities.
For highest overall performance, Middlesex Middle School in Darien, Helen Keller Middle School in Easton, Saxe Middle School and West School in New Canaan, Branchville Elementary School, Scotland Elementary School, East Ridge Middle School, Scotts Ridge Middle School and Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield were all named.
Additional reporting was contributed by Kaitlin Bradshaw, Hersam Acorn Newspapers