Three East Haven schools got a reprieve from the state earlier this month when their No Child Left Behind status was officially "reset."
Assistant School Superintendent Erica Forti said the Dorothy C. Moore Elementary School, the Momauguin Elementary School and the Joseph Melillo Middle School will lose their "safe harbor" status.
Instead, the three schools’ status will be effectively designated as AYP, which stands for "adequate yearly progress," meaning they meet the standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"Safe harbor" means that the school or a cohort group of students at the school did not meet the required standards for math and reading test scores, but their scores had improved enough to protect the school and the district from penalties.
Forti said the reset took place because the recent district-wide reorganization changed the school populations substantially, so the three schools’ past scores could not be compared to their future scores.
Instead of K-6 schools, Moore is now kindergarten-grade 2 and Momauguin is now grade 3-5. The middle school was grade 7-8, but it now is grade 6-8.
"This is good news," said Forti, but also "bittersweet," because East Haven educators were looking forward to achieving the same thing due to educational reforms they put in place three years ago. "So we did not get a chance to demonstrate that," she said.
The educational reforms were responsible for upgrading the schools’ status from "in need of improvement" to safe harbor last year. Two years at safe harbor automatically resets the status to AYP, she said.
The reforms responsible for the improvements are the use of data-driven decision-making and targeted instructional blocks.
The first is an improved assessment tool that lets teachers monitor student learning on almost a day-to-day basis, letting them respond to students’ weaknesses as they happen. Previously, it might take until the end of a marking period to determine where students were failing.
Targeted instructional blocks are 30-minute instructional periods when the students in a classroom are regrouped by achievement level and teachers, specialists and aides focus on what each group needs. Students who aren’t at grade level get intervention help, students at the proficiency level at pushed higher, and students that exceed proficiency get extra challenges, Forti said.
She said East Haven teachers and principals were confident these improvements are making a difference.
"We can say we did nothing different except these two things," she said.
Earning a reset by making enough improvement to reach safe harbor status for a second year would have proved it.
The reorganization was implemented at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, which is just ending. Forti said the Board of Education did it partly for financial reasons and partly because it made sense educationally.
Prior to the reorganization, kindergarten and pre-K were housed separately at Hays and Overbrook schools. Deer Run, Ferrara, Moore, Momauguin and Tuttle elementary schools were for grades 1-6. The middle school had grades 7-8.
The reorganization added grade 6 to the middle school, combined pre-K and kindergarten with grades 1-2 and assigned grades 3-5 to other schools. It paired Deer Run (grades pre-K to 2) and Ferrara (grades 3-5), Moore (grades pre-K to 2) and Momauguin (grades 3-5) and Overbrook (grades pre-K to 2) and Tuttle (grades 3-5).
The East Haven Academy, an in-district charter school for grades 3-8, moved onto the middle school campus.
Forti said in early May, Superintendent Anthony Serio received a letter from the state Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Compliance Office announcing the status reset for Moore, Momauguin and the middle school, the three schools that had not yet reached AYP status.
What that means for the two schools is the East Haven district no longer must offer special tutoring help or school choice for students who miss the minimum test score level.
The Connecticut Mastery Test for grades 3-8 is one of the most rigorous standardized tests in the nation. It has three levels of acceptable achievement: Proficiency, Goal and Advanced.
This school year, No Child Left Behind required 81 percent of students to achieve the Proficiency level for reading and 80 percent for math. But next year, the benchmarks rise to 90 percent for reading and 91 percent for math, which will make it harder for schools to meet AYP.
As originally written, the law would require 100 percent of students to score above Proficiency for both reading and math after 2014.
A criticism was that as the law hit higher benchmark levels, some states were making their tests easier so their schools didn’t fail. To address that, Congress changed the law so states would scrap their own tests and use national tests instead.
Forti said Connecticut joined a standardized test consortium, the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, and after 2014 students in Connecticut will take that consortium’s test instead. The CMT will be discontinued.
That will allow parents and political leaders to compare the test scores of different states, which currently use different tests and are not comparable.
"We are on the verge of historic national educational reform," Forti said.