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How Much do Wilton's Test Scores Matter?

A reader questions if Wilton test scores are falling. We answer, and then ask: How much do test scores matter to you?

In a , one regular Wilton Patch commenter, “ETP,” chimed in on a completely unrelated topic, saying: “That's nice, but why are academic scores falling?”  

This comment isn’t new, and the question of standardized-test-score-achievement pops up often (especially during budget time); heck, even testing season is months away. But it’s never to early to investigate an interesting question. So is it true, are Wilton schools showing a decline in test scores? And how important is standardized testing?

SATs

In 2010, Wilton scored 575 in reading (a 10 point decrease from 2009), 593 in writing (a four point decrease from 2009) and 600 in math (a decline of three points from 2009), according to a Power Point document found on the school’s website. A recent report by the Wilton Bulletin shows the average 2011 Wilton SAT scores as 598 in reading, 597 in math and 610 in writing.

Comparing the 2010 and 2011 SAT scores, Wilton students scored higher this year in every subject but math, where they fell by just three points. And while Wilton’s 2011 SAT scores did dip in mathematics, our entire country showed a recent decline in SAT averages, according to a New York Times article published on Sept. 15.

CAPTs

Wilton students ranked in the compared to the rest of Connecticut.

 CMTs

The 2011 Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs), taken by grades 3-7, , although the scores by far outranked state averages. It’s also important to note that sixth graders showed a score increase in all disciples, and other grades showed increases in certain subjects—such as a 2.2 percent jump in math by third graders—as well.

Do test scores matter?

And in June, . Commenting on that achievement, the Board of Education re-stated that, “In reality, it is impossible to know which high schools are "the best" in the nation. The determination of the relative quality of education offered at a school is ideally based on many different measures, including students' overall academic accomplishments, the ‘habits of mind’ they develop through their school experiences and their subsequent performance in college. Such an investigation into quality should also take into consideration the unique needs of the communities they serve.”

There’s also the Board of Ed’s budget, which clocked in at about $73.5 million for the 2011/2012 fiscal year. That might seem , for families looking for a house between $600,000 and $800,000 bang-for-your buck place to live in America because of its school system, which they rank as 88.48.

As it stands, Wilton’s test scores appear to be going strong, despite some yearly fluctuations which are inevitable. But how much do these scores matter? You read what the Board thinks; what do you think?

Eustace Tilley October 03, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Bravo Kit...Our papers and even the Patch devotes extensive space to local sports competitions but little if anything goes out on academic and musical competitions among/between neighboring schools. The article addresses only a few of the standardized tests...Maybe Craig can take a look at the ERB test results..its a 'non-mandated' series of tests that we spend a lot of money to administer...hmmmmmmmm. And finally, the CMT test administered to 3rd grade students in Bridgeport's MCM school compares pretty well to Wilton's
Michael Graupner October 03, 2011 at 02:47 PM
So Craig, what's the point of this puff piece? You may think that "Wilton's test scores appear to be going strong" but at an annual cost of $73 plus million it seems that we are throwing good money after bad to achieve mediocrity. Leading lights on the PTA, BOE, BoF, and BOS would of course disagree with that...but they are mostly proponents of the government run status quo that public education represents. Your piece would have been infinitely more interesting and relevant had you directly sought out the comparative views of the parents of over 500 Wilton kids who have opted out for private school. If Wilton public schools are tops in the state and test scores are " strong", why are parents increasingly reassessing their priorities and financial options to give their children a real alternative. You might try to guage the relative merit of having a Choate or St. Luke's or Taft or Greens Farms or Salisbury on a college application compared to another generic public school. You might also have asked a few seniors how they feel about forking over their social security checks to finance the declining performance of other people's kids. Maybe if you dug into what their money is actually spent on, your article would add some value and significance to the town's property tax discussion, rather than seeking out excuses for bad performance and financial management.
Craig Donofrio October 03, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Thanks, Michael, for your comments. I actually agree with much of what you've said, which is why I'll be exploring several areas of this issue to expand on the article at hand. I'm wondering, though, why do you think that Wilton schools are mediocre? Or is it just the test scores that you're referring to? Keep the comments coming; we're listening. -Craig
Another Wilton Mom October 03, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Agreed - there is too much emphasis on standardized testing. The kids seem to agree; they refer to the CMT as the "Children's Mental Torture" test. And my kids, who luckily love academics, moan and groan about the standardized testing every time. Michael - can you share the source of 500+ kids opting out of public schools and going private? When we moved to town, the number was something like 2% (with about 4300 students in the system, that means <100). I am going from memory, so I would love to see an updated source on this.
Eustace Tilley October 03, 2011 at 10:40 PM
Craig, under the formula 'one note does not a symphony make' do you have access to test scores during the past ten years? The school budget has doubled in ten and I am curious to see how test scores fared during the same period...to my recollection, they are lower now. thanks
Brian Kesselman October 04, 2011 at 12:52 AM
To make a fair comparison you would also need to factor in 2.73% inflation since 2000 ($1 from 2000 is now worth $1.30), over 13% increase in overall Wilton enrollment, the increased costs related to implementation of "No Child Left Behind", and trends toward mainstreaming special education students and covering costs of outplacement. Also, you need to track the overall changes in the test scores across the state/nation depending on the test. And factor in any changes in facilities maintenance, projects, additions and subtractions from the curricula and extra-curricular activities, etc. It is not likely that you will get a reasonably accurate comparison, but I suspect that you will find that the doubling of a school budget is a fairly flat net change. Maybe my 6th and 3rd graders' experiences are unique, and surely they vary by classroom, but we have had excellent teachers who did not concentrate on teaching to the CMT's or other tests. My children and their peers don't enjoy the actual testing days, but they do well and scores provide some nebulous benchmarks for the schools and parents alike. I agree with what I took from Craig's article which was, that it is not entirely productive to focus on specific scores and an overall assessment of the school system requires a wider view as evidenced by recognition in the press. I am happy that my children are thriving and learning and still enjoying it. For me, those are the hallmarks of a great school district.
Eustace Tilley October 04, 2011 at 01:05 PM
http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/what-if-the-nfl-was-run-like-the-government-school-system/
Geoffrey Day October 04, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Craig, Asking Graupner to critique the Wilton schools is akin to asking Carrie Nation her opinion of saloons. You can't honestly expect a reasoned, informed response, but, then, in asking, you're really just stirring the pot, aren't you?. Besides, the test scores are a red herring - his only concern is taxes! taxes!! taxes!!! Let's be honest - if they were $50 a year (or 50 cents, more likely), you wouldn't hear a word from him, or from any of his ilk, no matter what the test scores were.
Craig Donofrio October 04, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Whoops. Good *point. The Obama Administration now allows waivers for schools not wanting to participate in No Child Left Behind...more to come.
Michael Graupner October 04, 2011 at 07:36 PM
To answer Craig's question,my issue is not with Wilton schools per se, but with public education in general which promotes government intrusion and, by its very existence, will assure future generations that socialism will prevail in America.Are Wilton Schools mediocre? Perhaps not when compared to other public schools...but almost certainly when compared to private schools like Greens Farms, Choate, St. Lukes, Kent, Salisbury, etc.. The crucial difference is that parents of private school students have made a financial decision and commitment to make private day or boarding school available to their children at their own expense. They are not expecting their neighbors to underwrite that expense ,as is the case when annual property tax increases in Wilton are foisted on seniors in order to pay for the public education of other people's children.
JRM815 October 04, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Mr. Graupner, In 1977 the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state's constitution gives all Connecticut schoolchildren the right to a suitable education. So Wilton is required by law to educate "other people's children". Moreover, should any Wilton child with special needs (reading disability, autisim, etc.) attend any private school in town, Wilton is required to pay to service those students as well. The question then becomes not whether Wilton should or should not levy taxes to pay for public education, but what is a "suitable education" for a school-aged child of Wilton and how best to achieve that. If you don't like your tax dollars going to support public education, I suggest you begin now to change the state constitution.
Michael Graupner October 04, 2011 at 10:34 PM
JRM, I am not asking "whether Wilton should or should not levy taxes to pay for public education." I accept that notion. I am asking why the parents of the students benefiting from the town's largesse are not paying more for that "entitlement" rather than asking long-time residents on fixed incomes to underwrite them. I agree with you that the real question is what is a "suitable" education. I doubt that the facilities and offerrings of our school system today has any founding in our state constitution. It has grown through the efforts of the teachers unions and activist parents who ( understandably) want more for their kids. They need to be as forthright in shouldering their own financial burdens. FYI You might want to graduate from JRM815 to a real name. It will give your thoughts more weight and credibility.
the man October 04, 2011 at 10:42 PM
The number 500 was thrown out by the school administration and the Board of Education when the economy started it's decline. The Administration claimed that they dare not cut a penny from the proposed budget increas because "There are 500 children in Wilton who go to privet school and with the downturn in the economy they may return to the public school system" PS It never happened
Eustace Tilley October 05, 2011 at 03:48 AM
A 'suitable education" does not mean union contracts that outstrip inflation or median household income nor does it mean retaining overpaid, tenured teachers and administrators who do not perform the task of suitably educating students. Its become far to easy for some to insist others pay and pave their way so lets guard against the 'tyranny of the majority" (do a google search on that quote)...you may wind up in that boat a lot sooner than you may think
Eustace Tilley October 05, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Here is a recently published way to compare Wilton's educational results to the rest of the nation and to other countries...its from CATO, a respected think tank, and its results are startling $ for $... http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/how-does-your-school-district-compare-to-the-international-average-now-you-can-find-out/
Craig Donofrio October 05, 2011 at 05:19 PM
This is a great find, ETP, thanks! From here (http://globalreportcard.org/map.html#) you can search for CT > Fairfield County > Wilton, and then see how we stack up to international averages. Our comparison to the international average as of 2007 is 73% in math and 84% in reading, which means: “The GRC score indicates the level of math or reading achievement by the average student in a public school district compared to student achievement in a set of 25 developed countries. The score represents the percentage of students in the international group who would have a lower level of achievement. For example, a percentile of 60 means the average student in a school district would perform better than 60% of the students in the international group,” via the Global Report Card Website. On the right hand side of the site, it also gives three examples of certain countries that compare to Wilton. For example, Wilton scores 65% in math and 85% in reading when compared to Switzerland. Interesting, if nothing else.
Geoffrey Day October 05, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Interesting, too, that no CT districts were among the 60 US school districts that ranked best vs. International averages in Math, and only one, Windham, ranked among the 63 best vs. International averages in Reading (91%). On the other hand, Massachusetts had 17 "best" districts in Math, and 20 in Reading. Bigger budgets? Smarter students? Romneycare?
Eustace Tilley October 05, 2011 at 08:22 PM
Is your car running twice as well now with gas at 4 bucks a gallon than it was at 2 bucks?
Kit October 06, 2011 at 04:10 PM
In Connecticut all schools are required to include all special education students in their results. I do not think other countries do this. So comparisons are not apples to apples.
m October 07, 2011 at 02:30 PM
I don't think that the characterization of Mr. Graupner "and any of his ilk" is productive or fair. He has made some interesting observations based on information and data. Perhaps the review of all the factors wiil shed light on what is being provided students and families and the community and if the services can be provided in better and more productive ways. If test scores are being lumped together in a way that leads to wrong conclusions, then we should know that. Since tests are required by the state, then the scores are evaluated and need evaluation. And since the BOE budget is @ 2/3 of our town budget, how it is spent and what the outcomes are are areas important to many people.
m October 07, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Nice comparison, ETP. I wonder how Mass has 17 school districts in the top 60 according to the info above from poster Geoffrey Day and at what cost. compared to what we spend here. Yet, as you note higher cost or more money expended does not necessarily guarantee better or different results.
m October 07, 2011 at 02:40 PM
I wonder if many of the other high schools in our group submitted information or complete information to Newsweek for its ranking. If they did, we are to be commended. If not, then the ranking loses its edge.
Eustace Tilley October 07, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Ct ranks 4th nationally in teacher pay; MA RANKS 7TH. Wilton's avg is some 20k above the Ct state average
Geoffrey Day October 07, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Whether it runs twice as well or not, you still have to pay the 4 bucks, so what's this got to do with the price of bananas, as they say?
Another Wilton Mom October 07, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Query: Didn't the schools just announce that they are returning $2mm to the town due to being under budget this year? Does that mean what was spent in 2010-2011 was basically flat vis-a-vis 2009-2010? Additionally, if anyone finds data, I personally would find it helpful to see the source listed as well. I think we are all interested in learning more.
Eustace Tilley October 09, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Who is talking about bananas? What we were talking about is the cost of education has doubled but student performance has essentially flatlined. School salaries and benefit doubling has not improved results. Are we now at the point of diminishing returns?
Geoffrey Day October 10, 2011 at 01:53 PM
The YOY variations in test scores about which so much is trying to be made by some hobby-horsers are of little if any real statistical significance. Moreover, no recognition seems to be given the YOY turnover in the test-taking population. In other words, maybe the lack of uninterrupted, unbounded, straight-line improvement in test scores say as much about the aptitude of the students as it does - if it does- about the ability and effort of the teachers. Which, if valid, would make a link between test scores and teacher salaries and benefits nothing more than a red herring. I can't believe for a moment that you, in the course of your own career, would have accepted the economic strictures - raises capped at the rate of inflation, salaries no higher than the town median - that you are so ready to impose on the teachers. Small wonder that contract negotiations routinely wind up in arbitration. Maybe diminishing returns is exactly what the skinflint approach buys us.
Eustace Tilley October 10, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Oh Jeff, Let's be civil and let's move away from the notion that throwing money at anyone improves performance. Let's test the teachers to see if they can teach and then decide on their compensation. Do you have an alternative measure of their performance other then student test scores? If you really do think testing students is meaningless, why are we (who advocate sound spending practices) paying for tests that are neither mandated nor required by the state? Why is it so easy for you as a BOE apologist and presumably closely affiliated with the school eager to say we are skinflints in not blindly opening our purse to your advantage? Is greed the opposite of skinflint?
Geoffrey Day October 11, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Let's move away from the notion that throwing money at anyone improves performance, but let's decide teachers' compensation based on student test scores - presumably, the more the better? Oh, Ed, let's be honest - it's not the students' test scores, it's not the senior citizens. It's the taxes, plain and simple. As E. F. Hutton used to say, it's not what you earn, it's what you keep. Greed is the corollary of skinflint.
Eustace Tilley October 11, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Interesting how you toss around "skinflint" but are unwilling to accept the corollary .....I am prepared to discuss this rationally whenever you are ready... Do you have an alternative way to evaluate teacher's performance? If you really do think testing students is meaningless, why are we (who advocate sound spending practices) paying for tests that are neither mandated nor required by the state?

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