By Nancy Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – Gains in Norwalk Public Schools’ state assessment rating were trumpeted Tuesday at the Board of Education meeting.

“If we continue to invest in our schools, follow our well-thought out improvement strategy in the form of our strategic operating plan and have the continued support of our city I am sure we will continue to improve. I think this is a testament to the fact that when our students receive the same things as students in other districts, they do just as well if not better,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

The 2016-17 Connecticut Next Generation Accountability Report, released by the state recently, show 15 of Norwalk’s 20 schools performed better in the assessments, and the district gained 56 points in the accountability index score, Adamowski and Testing and Evaluation Specialist Diane Filardo said.

Filardo presented an in-depth look at the statistics, and Adamowski offered an analysis.

“I’d like to get the negative out of the way first. The negative is science, science and science,” Adamowski said.

The state’s science accomplishments are low and Norwalk Public Schools are lower, but there’s a reprieve next year when the state shifts to the new test that measures the Next Generation Science Standard, a replacement for the CMT test, Adamowski said.

That year gives NPS time, and the 30 minutes that will be added to the school day at six elementary schools – should the city fund the $1 million-plus proposal – should be used for science instruction, he said.

NPS needs to develop a science curriculum that is experiential, based on the scientific method, he said.

“We have to shift away from the old textbook approach to science that we have been using, and we have been using old textbooks as well, to kids’ experiments, uses of labs, a much more hands-on oriented approach,” Adamowski said. “We have a year to work on this. I want it to be our priority because that is the one thing that is holding us back at this point.”

Now, the good news: “Nothing magically happens at the district level. Our accountability index is up because 15 of our 20 schools improved,” Adamowski said.

It’s the third year of the Next Generation Accountability plan; in the first year Norwalk scored lower than Danbury and in the second year Danbury and Norwalk were tied, beneath the two-year front runner Stamford, he said.

Now, Norwalk is on top and, “that hopefully does a lot to build confidence in our ability to compete in Fairfield County,” Adamowski said.

Norwalk’s score improvement was the highest of all of Connecticut’s cities and second only in the state to “the 1,000 student East Hampton school district,” he said.

The state split the Center for Global Studies from Brien McMahon High School last year, but Brien McMahon “did not suffer the loss we expected” and instead gained 11.5 points, Adamowski said.

Norwalk High School made a very healthy gain and now BMHS and NHS are “virtually identical,” he said.

All four middle schools improved and Naramake Elementary, “once a low performing school, had the greatest gain last year at 45 points,” Adamowski said.

Naramake Elementary School had an overall accountability rating of 75.7, up from a 2015-16 rating of 70.2 percent, a state document shows. Filardo’s chart shows Naramake earning 596.7 points in 2016 and 643.5 points in 2017, a 46.8 point gain.

“When you have a gain that large you worry about regression toward the mean and losing ground the following year,” Adamowski said. “Had they lost eight or nine points they still would have had a 40-point gain over two years, or 20 points per year, it’s pretty good. But Naramake increased another 46.8 points. Were it not for outlier in science it would be category 2. That’s what we would expect next year.”

Cranbury Elementary had the largest gain of any Norwalk elementary school and Tracey should have shed its stereotype as a low-performer given its “gain of 31 and no gap,” Adamowski said.

It’s the first Norwalk school to advance categories, as it’s now a category 2, he said.

Rowayton has become a school of distinction, as a category 1 school with no gap outliers, Adamowski said, pointing out that 45 percent of the students are special needs, either English Language Learners, Special Education students or on free or reduced lunch.

Adamowski and the Board honored administrators from Rowayton Elementary School, Roton Middle School, Cranbury Elementary School, Tracey Elementary School, with some Rowayton parents and children marching to the Board to get handshakes. Also mentioned for congratulations were families and “hard working scholars.”

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon was not at Tuesday’s meeting but emailed a statement to NancyOnNorwalk afterwards:

“Norwalk Schools are successful places, despite the high turnover in Central Office, low morale among school staff, and multiple challenges with communication and planning. Despite these challenges, Norwalk has dedicated, innovative certified staff in every building who go above and beyond each and every day in the classroom to make sure that great things are happening in our schools. It is encouraging to see data to show that our hard work pays off. Accolades should be shared among the entire educational community including parents, para-educators, community members, certified staff and administrators who all contribute to these good results together.

“The accountability report is a state formula that boils down everything a school does into a single number. Some schools made more gains than others. There is no short response to or simple explanation for schools that did not make the hoped-for gains. However, elementary schools may be more vulnerable because 7 of the 20 elements contributing to ‘the number’ don’t apply to elementary schools at all. Nonetheless, the reports allow us to examine the data to develop strategies to improve rigor and relevance of instruction tailored to the differing populations, needs, facilities, and available resources and support.

“NFT Certified staff have dedicated their careers to student success and will continue to do so in the future.”

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