The Wilton Public School District saw a dropping grade on the state’s annual school performance assessment, according to data recently released by Connecticut’s Department of Education.

The district earned a lower grade in the 2016-17 school year than in the 2015-16 school year — scoring 80.5%, down from the previous year, when it scored 85.5%.

Superintendent Kevin Smith said the state accountability report “represents a mixed bag” for the district.

“When we received our Smarter Balanced Assessment achievement results last August, the principals worked with their teams to craft action plans,” he said.

“We monitor these plans through our interim benchmark assessments and are encouraged by some of the results we are seeing.”

Smith said they expect to see “growth and improvement” in the next report.

According to the Connecticut Department of Education, the state uses a zero-to-100 grading system that takes into account a dozen measures, including standardized test scores, enrollment in arts and Advanced Placement courses, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, postsecondary entrance rates, physical fitness, and college enrollment rates.

The Department of Education calls this Connecticut’s Next Generation Accountability System. The state says indicators are there to “help tell the story of how well a school is preparing its students for success in college, careers and life.”

According to the Department of Education, the system “moves beyond test scores and graduation rates and instead provides a more holistic, multifactor perspective of district and school performance and incorporates student growth over time.”

A more thorough examination of indicators may be found by going to edsight.ct.gov and clicking “next generation accountability.”

The New Canaan School District was the highest-ranked school system in the state, with an 89.1% score. The lowest-ranked district in the state was New Britain, at 55.7%.

School grades

In addition to district grades, the state uses the indicators to analyze each individual school on the same basis.

All four Wilton public schools received lower grades for the 2016-17 school year than they did for the 2015-16 year.

Miller-Driscoll received a perfect score of 100% for 2015-16. For the 2016-17 school year the school fell just a bit, earning 98.3%. The grade drop was due to an increase in chronic absenteeism among high-needs students, according to the data — from 2.4% in 2015-16 to 5.8% in 2016-17.

Cider Mill went from 82.1% in the 2015-16 school year report to 77.5%. Contributing factors to the grade drop include declines in overall English language arts performance, science performance among high-needs students, and math average percentage of growth among high-needs students, and an increase in overall chronic absenteeism.

Middlebrook, whose overall grade dropped from 83.2% to 74.1%, saw a drop in all performance indicators, an increase in chronic absenteeism and a decrease in percentage of students on track to high school graduation. The only category in which the middle school showed progress was physical fitness.

Wilton High School’s score dropped from 87.8% to 84.5% due to declining science performance, postsecondary entrance, art access, and students on track to high school graduation.

There were 1,045 public schools graded by the state. Of those, 647, or 62%, saw their overall scores drop. Three percent of schools had no change, and 35% saw an increase.

Achievement gap

In each of the accountability reports for 2015-16 and 2016-17, the school district’s achievement gap was classified as an “outlier.” According to the reports, if the size of the gap between high-needs students and non-high-needs students in terms of performance exceeds the state mean gap plus one standard of deviation, then the gap is an outlier.

District-wide in 2016-17, the performance gap between the two groups of students was:

  • ELA: 15.
  • Math: 20.
  • Science: 17.9.

The state gap mean plus one standard of deviation was:

  • ELA: 16.7.
  • Math: 18.7.
  • Science: 16.6.

Beyond overall achievement, Smith said, “the gap in achievement between high needs and general education students as well as the chronic absenteeism rates are the measures that are most concerning.”

“We have teams in place at each school this year that have been meeting routinely to monitor student attendance and plan interventions,” he said.

“We are seeing positive results from these efforts, especially at the high school where the rate is highest.”

Smith said he is also “encouraged by the work” of the district’s new assistant superintendent of special services, Andrea Leonardi, who has been “meeting with staff and developing a deep understanding of the underlying causes of the lagging achievement of some of our special-needs students.”

“Here too,” Smith said, “work is underway to address and narrow the achievement gap.”