The “Accountability Index” for Westport public schools, measured by the state Department of Education, shows declines over the last two years, with local schools achieving the desired target of 85 percent only once, in 2018-19, during the last six years.

By Linda Conner Lambeck 

WESTPORT — The town’s public school district scored an 80.7 on the state’s annual accountability report, slightly lower than last year and 4.4 points less than pre-pandemic. 

The report, released last week by the state Department of Education, includes a dozen measures, including not only test scores in core subject areas, but graduation rates, absentee rates, post-secondary preparation, physical fitness, exposure to the arts and more. 

It is meant as a more holistic look at how school districts and schools are performing. 

Westport continues to score high in areas of overall academic performance — the maximum points allowed were awarded in English/language arts and math for all students — but lost points this year when it came to math growth among high-needs students, helping English language learners gain proficiency and the percentage of students meeting or exceeding health and fitness zone standards in all four areas of the state physical fitness assessment. 

On that measure, Westport earned 25.7 of a possible 50 points. In 2021-22 it earned 30.5 points in that category. 

Local school officials last week declined to comment on the report as it was just released. 

Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice said a presentation will be made to the board later this fall once the results had been completely analyzed.

To read the detailed 2022-23 school accountability report for Westport schools, click here and then select “Westport” under the district tab.

State overview

Overall, officials say accountability results for schools across the state paint a mixed picture. 

The statewide report shows slight improvements in chronic absenteeism and other areas in the 2022-23 school year, but a decline in graduation rates and other areas compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

The state’s overall score in 2022-23 was 69.3 compared to 69.7 the previous year. 

Compared to 2018-19, fewer high school freshmen statewide are on track to graduate, and fewer are going to college. 

The on-track graduation rate statewide — 82.4 percent — is at the lowest level the state has seen since tracking began, according to Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for the state Department of Education. 

Pre-pandemic, in 2018-19, the state on-track graduation rate was 88 percent. 

In Westport, 97.6 percent of students in 2022-23 were on track to graduate in four years, according to the report.  

Among high-needs students in Westport, the percentage who graduate within six years was 93.8 percent last year. In 2021-22, it was 96.6 percent. 

Statewide, Gopalakrishnan said the gap between high-needs students and non-high-needs students graduating on time is staggering — about 74 percent for high-needs students compared to 93 percent for non-high-needs peers.

Kings Highway, Saugatuck schools earn laurels

This year, 153 schools in the state are recognized as “Schools of Distinction” in various categories. 

Two Westport schools made the list — Kings Highway and Saugatuck elementary schools.

Kings Highway was recognized for high growth in both language arts and math among all students, Saugatuck for high performance and high growth in math among all students. 

Just before the start of this school year, the state released results of the Smarter Balanced test administered last spring. 

Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 are tested in language arts, math and science, and those scores feed into the accountability report. 

Some 78.3 percent of all Westport students tested met or exceeded the state goal and 79.5 percent met the math goal. 

In both cases, the local percentages were less than pre-pandemic levels by about four percentage points, but the percent reaching math targets last year saw a four-point gain from the year before. 

Statewide, 48.5 percent of all students met or exceeded the goal in language arts and 42.5 percent in math. In both cases, well below pre-pandemic levels. 

State Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker, at a press conference to announce the accountability results last week, said overall results have inspired the department to intensify focus on initiatives to accelerate recovery and regain ground lost during the pandemic when instruction was limited and sometimes delivered remotely. 

Westport numbers, a deeper dive

The state assigns points for each of its 12 indicators. 

The tally represents not only how a school district’s students performed, but how they measured up against a target set for them by the state. 

The most a district can receive is 1,450 points. Westport in 2022-23 earned 1,170.3, or 80.7 percent of what it could have earned. 

Points are lost when targets aren’t met. Yet no bonus points are added when targets are exceeded. 

For instance, 38.5 percent of Westport students met or exceeded the standard on all four parts of the state physical fitness assessment. The state-assigned goal was 75 percent. So the district scored 25.7 out of a possible 50 points. 

Also, some 67.1 percent of local students learning English met growth targets toward proficiency, the goal being 100 percent. So the district earned 33.6 points. 

Meanwhile, 98.4 percent of Westport students participate in some kind of post-secondary preparation course work. The state-set target is 75 percent. Westport earned the maximum 50 points for that indicator, no more. 

Also, 81.9 percent of Westport students earned credit for post-secondary course work. The set goal was 75 percent, so Westport earned 50 points, but not more. 

Statewide, 66.1 percent of students participate in post-secondary prep classes and 45.5 percent met state physical fitness goals. 

In Westport, chronic absenteeism last year was 10 percent, better than the 11.6 percent posted the year before. 

Among high-needs students, chronic absenteeism last year stood at 17.8 percent, compared to 20.7 percent in 2021-22. 

Statewide, the overall 20 percent chronic absentee rate is better than the 23.7 percent posted the year before. 

Another area where the district does better than the state is in exposure to the arts. The report shows 65.5 percent of Westport high school students participated in at least one dance, music, theater, visual arts or media arts course in the school year. The target was 60 percent. The state average is 54.5 percent. 

Westport’s new 80.7 points compares to 81.5 points assigned last year and 85.1 points in 2018-19, before the pandemic. 

The state has made it increasingly difficult to compare the overall indexes assigned to each school district. 

“The purpose of the system is not to name and shame schools and make them feel bad as much as to really use the information as reflective information to make good decisions. The idea of the system is also for us at the state Department of Education to bring support and recognition,” Gopalakrishnan said. 

Comparisons, however, remain possible. 

Results posted on the state website show at least two dozen districts received higher index scores in 2022-23 than Westport.  

Neighboring Weston achieved an 85.7 score, Wilton 85.1 score, Darien 85.5 and Trumbull 85.2. 

Madison, where Scarice previously served as superintendent, had one of the highest indexes in the state at 87 points. 

With additional reporting by the Connecticut Mirror.

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Freelance writer Linda Conner Lambeck, a reporter for more than four decades at the Connecticut Post and other Hearst publications, is a member of the Education Writers Association.