Storms and other factors may have contributed to CMT decline

Last school year’s storms may have had something to do with declining Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) scores in Milford.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings said he wasn’t trying to make excuses Monday night when he discussed this year’s CMT and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) scores with the Board of Education.

“We have no definite answer for the decline,” Cummings said, before posing some factors that may have contributed.

Last year’s harsh winter and Hurricane Sandy led to the loss of 2.5 weeks of instruction before the tests took place.

“When you lose 2.5 weeks of instruction, that’s going to have an impact,” Cummings said.

Connecticut Mastery Test scores declined across the state, school officials have said, and many school officials were disappointed.

Results posted on the state education website show slight drops almost across the board on the CMTs for Milford students. In grade three, for example, the number of students scoring at or above the proficiency level in math dropped from 92% in 2012 to 90% in 2013.

In writing, however, the numbers rose slightly, with 88.4% of students scoring at or above proficient compared to 86.5% the previous year.

In grade five, math scores dropped slightly from 75.7% at or above goal in 2012 to 74.9% in 2012. But at the same time, the number of students scoring at or above the proficiency level in math rose from 88.3% to 89.2% in 2013.

The weather isn’t the only possible explanation, Cummings said. There is also the fact that this is the last year for the CMTs and CAPTs. In March, a new brand of test will be administered because it is more in line with the Common Core State Standards that Milford has adopted.

According to the Hartford Courant, the new Common Core State Standards are a set of academic goals that were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and these are driving changes in way academics are taught.

Milford teachers have already started teaching curriculum aligned with the Common Core Standards, and in some cases the CMTs don’t mirror the instruction.

For example, Lisa Swanson, supervisor of math and business, said in grade three 87% of students met goal in the area of estimation last year and only 53% met goal this year.

That’s because, under the Common Core Standards, the teachers don’t teach estimation by grade three as they used to, but rather teach it much later.

“It’s hard to exist in both worlds,” Swanson said.

The CMT and the CAPT will not be given next March in Milford because the CMT/CAPT questions no longer reflect what is taught and when.

“All districts in Connecticut are in a period of transition,” Cummings said.

The board plans to move toward administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, one of two endorsed tests from the Connecticut State Department of Education.

“This test aligns with the content taught, and when it is taught, as called for in the Common Core State Standards curriculum,” school officials said.

“The vexing thing is that the Smarter Balanced testing is not in its final stages – but they do have a ‘model’ that they are testing in the field now,” Cummings said. “The board/administrators agreed last month to give the Smarter Balanced field test in the spring, rather than the CMT/CAPT sequence. Their feeling is that it doesn’t make sense to administer a test that no longer matches our curriculum.

“Even though Smarter Balanced is in the final ‘editing’ phase, the board/administration felt it would be good for our kids to at least be exposed to the new test — it’s all done on computer — no filling in the ‘bubbles’ with #2 pencils. We will use this initial batch of data as our ‘starting line,” Cummings added.

That said, administrators are not sweeping the CAPT/CMT results under the rug.

Cummings said Milford administrators take responsibility for the decline in scores, noting, “Our students should have done better.”

Administrators will use the data to see where instruction needs to be changed: Some changes have already been made. And they will examine data that shows a gap between performance by students overall, compared to those in special education and those enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.