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New CT Data on Attendance, SBAC Outcomes, and Questions Regarding 3rd Gr Reading Retention

New CT Data on Attendance, SBAC Outcomes

On Monday, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) released the results of the spring 2023 Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC)—along with new data on chronic absenteeism. Coverage by the Hartford Courant explains that average student performance increased for Math and Science, and decreased slightly for English Language Arts. The average performances for all subjects were still significantly below the state’s targets, as well as pre-pandemic levels.

To consider these outcomes through an equity lens, we've pulled the ELA and Math data since 2015, and identified the size of the discrepancies between white students, Black students, and Hispanic/Latino students. As you'll see in the charts below, some of these differences were narrowing prior to 2018-19. Since then, they've widened again.

The state’s release also covered new chronic absenteeism data. Prior to COVID, 10.4% of students were chronically absent (meaning that they missed 10% of the school year, or 18 days), but the trend has worsened over the course of the pandemic, hitting 19% in the 2020-21 school year and 23.7% in 2021-22. This year, the CSDE reported a decline back to 20%, marking a positive shift. CT News Junkie quotes Commissioner Charlene Russell Tucker as acknowledging that, “Attendance lays the foundation for effective learning, for impacting student growth and achievement, and the recovery and acceleration efforts that we’re all focused on.”

EdWeek Panel Raises Questions Regarding 3rd Gr Reading Retention

On Monday, Sarah Schwartz from Education Week moderated a panel of speakers—including Kymyona Burk of ExcelinEd, Amy Cummings from Michigan State University, and Umut Ozek from the RAND Corporation—to discuss whether 3rd grade retention mandates should be a feature of legislative packages on early literacy.

Connecticut's "Right to Read'' legislation is part of a nationwide movement to update early literacy policies aligned to the science of reading. While we admire the exceptional work in so many states—Connecticut differs from about half of the country in that its legislation does NOT include a third grade retention policy, which would hold back struggling readers based on evaluation scores.

Proponents of retention policies say they prevent “passing through” students who need more time; but critics worry about the negative social-emotional consequences, the lack of planning to support students held back, and the insufficient evidence that retention even produces better academic outcomes. Our perspective is that third grade retention is also contrary to progressive values because it puts the onus on an individual student, rather than on the system.

During Monday’s panel, the speakers struggled to explain the effectiveness of the practice—acknowledging that it only works well when coupled with a high level of personalized intervention. “The key is the instructional support component for students in the following year,” said Ozek. “Additional time is great, but if you use additional time on business as usual, it’s probably not going to be as effective.” Further discussion also revealed that—although retention as late as third grade could be emotionally damaging to students who are struggling academically—there is little evidence to show that it leads to lasting academic gains in the later years.

Read Education Week’s write-up on the panel here.


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