“I have some good news, better news, and some fantastic news,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Craig Creller told the school board.

He was reporting on Ridgefield students’ scores on a variety of tests — the SAT taken by most high school students, a new science test given at three levels, and the Smarter Balanced Assessments given annually from grade three to grade eight.

The report on test results from Creller, K-12 Humanities Supervisor Dr. Alison Villaneuva, and K-12 STEM Supervisor Dr. Wes DeSantis was presented to the Board of Education on Oct. 28.

SATs

On the SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test, high school students abilities are measured in two areas: “evidence-based reading and writing” and mathematics. Ridgefield’s mean score for 2019 was 604 on both, and both were increases from 2018 — a six-point gain from 598 to 604 on the reading and writing test, and an 11-point increase from 593 to 604 on the math test.

The combined average score that adds the reading and writing score to the math score showed Ridgefield students with a 17 point year-to-year increase, going from a combined SAT score of 1,191 in 2018 to 1,208 in 2019.

In English Language Arts (ELA), Ridgefield’s average score of 604 placed it fifth among seven high schools in affluent Fairfield County suburbs that the state groups together as District Reference Group A or “DRG-A” — Ridgefield and Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Weston, Wilton and Region 9 (Joel Barlow serving Redding and Easton). The range of ELA scores in the DRG-A schools went from 618 in New Canaan to 591 in Region 9. The DRG-A average was 608, and the statewide average 514.

In math, Ridgefield’s 604 average SAT score placed it fourth among among the seven DRG-A towns, with scores ranging from 628 in Darien to 589 in Region 9. The DRG-A average score in math was 607, and the statewide average score of 500.

In a comment that seemed applicable to any of the tests discussed, Creller told the board that the differences among the DRG-A towns was negligible, compared to the separation between Ridgefield’s and the statewide scores.

“When we compare to New Canaan and Darien, we are statistically the same,” Creller said. “If we compare to Connecticut, our kids are really knocking it out of the park.”

Science

The “Next Generation Science Standards” tests (NGSS assessment) were given to all students at three different places in their school careers — fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

Results are graded according to a four-part scale: Level Four, exceeds the achievement standard; Level Three, meets the achievement standard; Level Two, approaches the achievement standard; Level One, does not meet the achievement standard.

School officials talk about the district’s success by the percentage of students meeting either level three or four — the students who meet or exceed the testing standard.

In fifth grade 81% of Ridgefield students tested at level three or level four, meaning they met or exceeded the science standards..

In eighth grade, 73% of students tested at levels three or four.

In 11th grade, 71% of students met and exceeded the science standards.

English and math

Two Smarter Balanced Assessments are given to students annually in third through eighth grades, one in English Language Arts (ELA) and another in mathematics.

Results are graded according to the same four-part scale: Level four, exceeds the achievement standard; Level three, meets the achievement standard; Level two, approaching the achievement standard; Level one, does not meet the achievement standard.

Again, school officials often use the percentage of students scoring at levels three or four as a benchmark.

Across the six grades in all Ridgefield schools the percentage of students achieving level three (meets achievement standard) or level four (exceeds achievement standard) increased over 6% in mathematics, from 72.3% in 2017-18 to 77.6% in 2018-19.

In English Language Arts (ELA), Ridgefield students in grade three through eight had a 3% improvement from 81.1% in 2017-18 to 83.9% in 2028-19.

Board member Fran Walton cautioned about getting too excited about the improvement in math scores.

“We had a concern over the middle school math program,” she said. “I don’t want to denigrate the growth, but we had concerns.

Ridgefield’s math and English scores were compared to the statewide averages and also the average “DRG-A” school systems.

In English Language Arts (ELA) in 2018-19, Ridgefield’s 83.9% of students achieving levels three or four was higher than the 82.3% for the average of all DRG-A school districts and well above the 55.7% average of all Connecticut schools.

In math in 2018-19, Ridgefield’s 77.6% of students achieving levels three or four was slightly below the DRG-A schools’ average of 79.8% but substantially above the statewide average of 48.1% of students.

Broken down by grade, across all Ridgefield schools, the percentages achieving levels three or four were: Grade Three, 85.4 ELA; 84.8% math; Grade Four, 86.0% ELA, 85.9% math; Grade Five, 87.5% ELA, 76.5% math; Grade Six, 82.7% ELA, 74.8 math; Grade Seven, 81.3% ELA, 76.6% math; Grade Eight, 81.3% ELA, 69.8% math.

Wes DeSantis, the district STEM supervisor, told the board that Ridgefield was one of many towns to see math scores drop noticeably at grade five.

“The whole state, no matter where you looked at it,” he said. “It was 80s, 90s — then 70s. There was a huge drop in fifth grade.”

Special needs

Focusing on the group that the report described as “students with exceptionalities” in the IDEA special education program, Ridgefield saw a 5% increases in the percentage of IDEA students achieving level three or level four in both English Language Arts and math — although their percentages were below those of the general school population.

From 2017-18 to 2018-19 the IDEA students went from 42% to 47% achieving levels three or four on the English Language Arts test.

And the percentages of IDEA students achieving levels three or four on the math test went from 24% in 2017-18 to 29% in 2018-19.

Alison Villaneuva, the district humanities supervisor, urged the board to continue to pursue improvement among special needs students.

“We need to make sure we address that,” she said. “We want all our student to grow.”

Advanced placement

The Advanced Placement or “AP” tests are given in specific subject areas to high school students who have taken what are described as college level courses.

Ridgefield educators have long been proud of both the quality and breadth of the AP program at RHS.

Creller noted that 70% of Ridgefield High School students took at least one AP test.

On the most recent tests, last year’s, Ridgefield had “540 test takers, and they combined to take 1,202 AP tests — second highest in the state,” Creller said.

In another DRG-A comparison, Ridgefield AP test takers passed 90% of their exams with a score of three or better, with only Darien and Westport — both at 92% — doing better. Wilton was tied with Ridgefield at 90%, New Canaan came in at 89%, Weston at 86% and Region 9 at 85% of AP exams passed with a score of three or better.

Next steps

The report recommended “next steps” to continue improving Ridgefield students’ learning and test performance, which were quite similar for the different tests discussed in the report.

Here are the recommendations in three areas — curriculum, instruction and assessment — as outlined in the report for the smarter balanced assessments.

“Curriculum:

“Continue to revise and align all ELA and Math curriculum to standards;

“Continue to work towards the creation of a standards based reporting system to ensure alignment of what is taught, measured and reported;

“Explicitly increase and provide multiple access points throughout curricular experiences for all students across ELA and Math.

“Instruction:

“Continue to provide professional learning support to teachers with new math curricula;

“Continue to engage standards and the Vision of the Graduate across all disciplines;

“Continue to provide explicit student support or extension through small groups/extension block.

“Assessment:

“Continue to align all formative and summative assessments to standards;

“Continue to rely on ‘several’ pieces of data to inform student performance in ELA and Math.”