Wethersfield Schools Setting Out to Close CMT Achievement Gap
WETHERSFIELD - As Wethersfield lays plans to renovate its high school, the district’s curriculum is undergoing some revamping of its own in an effort to better prepare its students for the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), the state’s math, reading and science assessment on which achievement gaps have existed for some time, and more.

       “It’s a complicated problem, and if someone found a way to fix it we’d all be doing it,” said Board of Education member Tracey McDougall.

       In Wethersfield, fixing it starts in kindergarten--the beginning of a child’s academic career. The district is in its first year of the newly-implemented all-day kindergarten, which is prompting curriculum adjustments at every proceeding level in order to adjust to the increased instructional time.

       “First and foremost [is] time,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett. “I hear that more often than not, that there’s just not enough time in the day.”

       The objective of all-day kindergarten is to ensure that students are not playing catch-up by the time they take the CMT for the first time in third grade.

       “It’s going to be a few years before we see that in our CMT scores,” said Parents Council Co-Chair Martha Conneely. “By the time the current kindergarteners reach third grade, hopefully we’ll see that have an impact on our scores.”

       While kindergarten is a large part of Wethersfield’s focus, it is the years before that may really set the tone for a child’s later development, according to McDougall.

       “They’re like sponges and they’re taking it all in,” she said. “Anything you can expose them to can give them a huge boost. The better prepared kids can be once they come to kindergarten, the more they can move along and move through the material.”

       While CMT scores have been a concern for Wethersfield as a whole, students in socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroups have struggled to keep up with their peers who do not share the same obstacles.

       Just over 37 percent of third graders receiving free or reduced price lunch reached goal level in reading this year, compared to 64.2 percent of those not eligible, according to CMT statistics from CTReports.com.

       In math, 44.2 percent of third graders in this subgroup hit goal, compared to 75.1 percent of those not receiving free or reduced priced lunch, according to the site.

       “You’re kind of comparing apples and oranges when you’re comparing a child whose family speaks English as a first language, is well off, to a child whose family is economically disadvantaged,” Conneely said.

       In writing, the only CMT data available for ESL students, 25 percent of third-graders in this subgroup were at goal level this year, while 67.6 percent of those who speak English as a first language scored at this mark.

       “When we continue to develop our school improvement plans, we focus on those groups,” Emmett said.

       Tests like the CMT strive for a uniform method by which to evaluate student performance, but when the slew of challenges facing a variety of different subgroups is anything but uniform, a one-size fits all classroom approach will not get it done, Emmett said.

       “You are looking at some individualized instructions,” he said. “With an English language learner, it might be vocabulary. For a special education student, they might need other support.”

       A lot of emphasis will be placed on implementing what has been dubbed the workshop model. Breaking from the traditional lecture format, the workshop model is engineered to deliver lessons that are adapted to fit the needs of individual students.

       “It is a fluid classroom environment where students are working together, teachers are doing small group work,” Emmett said. “It’s really self-directed.”

       The Wethersfield district is currently in its second year utilizing this method, so it may take some time before its benefits are reflected in CMT scores, Emmett said.

       “You need time to develop the culture and climate in the schools,” he said.

       But reshaping the classroom dynamic is about more than just standardized test scores, Emmett said.

       “We tend to look at the CMT, and the CAP, as the be end, end all measure, but that is one measure,” Emmett said. “School is so much more than taking that test in March. These are skills that go beyond the CMT and CAP. These are skills that they’re going to use forever.”