It was a lofty goal, and the likelihood of reaching such perfection was noted in the grant proposal. "A goal of 100 percent proficiency on the grade four (Connecticut Mastery Test) math assessment would require the proficiency rate for white students to rise 11 percentage points, from 89 percent (2004) to 100 percent (2011), versus 43 percentage points for black students, from 57 percent (2004) to 100 percent (2011)," the proposal stated.
Even at the time, the district knew it was all but impossible to make so much progress in only five years. And while Stamford has not met the mark it originally set, Wells said she counts Stamford's story as one of a successful district.
"Any time there's a change, it's something that doesn't happen overnight," Wells said.
"I think Stamford has definitely exceeded my expectations," she said, spelling out a variety of initiatives the district has undertaken as part of the grant, from a new approach to professional development to aligning the curriculum across the district to the ultimate mission: Raising the bar for all students.
In the spring of 2006, 32.1 percent of Stamford's black seventh-grade students scored at below basic -- the lowest of five possible achievement levels -- on the CMT's; by 2011, that figure decreased by 21 full percentage points, with 11.1 percent of black students finding themselves at the bottom level for the state's standardized test. In the same time, the percentage of Hispanic students scoring at that level has shrunk from 18.8 percent to 6.2 percent, and white students at the lowest level have decreased from 3.2 percent to 1 percent.
"The situation in math is multifaceted," said Judy Singer, the district's director of research. "No matter how we look at the data, the growth in math seems to be consistent."
The promising results in math prompted the GE Foundation to extend its commitment to Stamford Public Schools in 2010, issuing a three-year extension, which poured an additional $10.5 million into the district to work toward similar growth in literacy.
Like the original allotment, which dumped resources into a wholesale makeover of the district's approach to math and science, the literacy funding honed in on the importance of coaching, directing roughly $4 million toward creating 15 coaching positions. More than $500,000 was directed toward revising the reading and writing curriculum in response to a 2008 GE-funded audit that found the district employed 153 different approaches to teaching literacy. Also like the first grant, the extension put forth a timeline for improvement in the students' achievement.
In the second proposal, the district relied largely on its strategic district improvement plan to identify the student-level growth it hoped to see in the coming years. Between the 2009-10 academic year and the 2011-12 academic year, the district sought to increase the percentage of students reaching proficiency or higher by at least 12 percentage points across the subjects and grade levels. At this point, it's too early to tell just how much of an effect the literacy money has had on student achievement, Wells and Singer both noted. While the goal included an increase from 2010 to 2012, the grant focusing on literacy didn't pick up until 2011, and the 2012 state test score results have not yet been released.
The progress has been shaky. The greatest gain in reading achievement was seen in third grade, where the percentage of students reading at or above proficiency increased from 64.6 percent in 2010 to 67.7 percent in 2011. At the same time, the biggest disappointment came in fifth grade, where the percentage of students reaching proficiency decreased from 70.9 percent in 2010 to 64.2 percent in 2011. But with so little data, the results don't tell the true story, said Singer, who noted it takes at least three years of data to spot a trend.
The progress may not be spelled out in standardized test scores, but it's evident in the community that students are reading better now than they were two years ago, Wells said.
"When you see your child getting it, and it's clicking, you can't argue with that," she said.
Most Popular Stories
- Ex-Mobster to Bulger: Just Say Sorry
- Google Stock Split Ahead
- Guns Are Hot in California
- OSH Selling Most of Its Stores to Lowe's
- MillerCoors Taps New Hispanic Ad Agency
- Honda Says Sorry About the Lack of Electric Fits
- El Paso Symposium Offers Help to Startups
- First Person Cured of AIDS Virus Wants to Help Others
- Small Businesses Hiring, but Worry About Expense
- LULAC Convention Starts With Focus on LGBT Youth