Earlier this month, and just days into the new school year, the CT State Department of Education (CSDE) released the results from last year’s Smarter Balanced (SB) testing.

There was some good news. Notably, as reported by the Courant, high-needs students (those who are learning English as a second language, have special needs or are experiencing poverty) were improving at a faster rate than other students, and math scores showed improvement overall. The Independent reported that standardized test scores continued their upward rise at New Haven’s elementary schools last year.

There is never a time to disparage academic growth, and educators should feel a sense of accomplishment. Progress is being made. Still, even a cursory look at the data makes the case that more must be done — with a sense of purpose and urgency.   

As background, the SB test is administered to students in grades 3 through 8 in two content areas — English language arts (ELA) and math. The test result will ultimately fall into one of four score bands: (1) not met, (2) approaching, (3) met, and (4) exceeded. 

It is unacceptable to have any student in level 1 or level 2, yet in ELA, 45.3% of all test takers fell into levels 1 and 2, and 51.9% of all test takers fell into levels 1 and 2 in math. With about 230,000 third- and eight-graders taking the SB test, that’s well over 100,000 who are being failed by Connecticut’s public education system. 

Looking more deeply at that data, urban districts are largely overrepresented in the level 1 and level 2 score bands. Across Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, Danbury, and Hartford, tens of thousands of students languish in the lowest two score bands. Conversely, more affluent districts have the vast majority of students in the highest two score bands of “met” and “exceeded,” e.g.: Cheshire, 82.6% average for ELA, 76.18 average for math (across 4 schools); Avon, 79% average for ELA, 75.73% average for math (across 4 schools); and Fairfield, 77.9% average for ELA, 74% average for math (across 14 schools).

ReadyCT, founded in 2011 to address the state’s achievement gap, has spent the majority of this decade advocating for policies and offering programming to address this persistent issue. To be clear, we celebrate the success of students in districts with strong outcomes; after all, every student should be afforded a high-quality education as the engine of his or her opportunity. Similarly, we rail against data that tells us some students are denied that engine. Many aren’t even given a key to put in the ignition.

With the start of this new school year just days ago, every resident of this state should take notice of this problem — one which strikes at the very heart of equity and economics. We must all explore ways in which this can be course corrected. Indeed, there is endless untapped potential in the 100,000+ students whose test scores are below par, and yet our state and local economies are in desperate need of talent to move forward and thrive. So, too, are many of these students in need of a pathway forward. We applaud those districts that are helping to produce our state’s talent pool of the future; we encourage everyone to work together in ways that can grow that talent pool by oh, say, 100,000+ or thereabouts. And this can only be achieved through thoughtful policy that addresses academic and social inequities and implementation of programming that provides students with the rigorous, relevant learning they all deserve. 

Shannon Marimón is executive of ReadyCT (f/k/a CCER) whose mission is to advance academic excellence and career-connected learning for all public school students in Connecticut in collaboration with business, civic and education leaders. To learn more about ReadyCT, visit www.readyCT.org.