The statewide test scores for the new Smarter Balanced Consortium Assessment exam show that 55.4 percent of Connecticut’s students are meeting or exceeding the “achievement level” in English, and 39.1 percent are meeting or exceeding the achievement level in math.

State education officials, who refused to release the draft scores to the news media last week, said they expected the scores to be low. They also threatened local superintendents, who were given access to the information, not to give it to anyone until today. And this week, leading up to the the release of the data, state officials said the English scores exceeded expectations and the “Math scores met the state’s expectations.”

However, the math scores — which show fewer than half of the students meeting or exceeding the achievement level — also prompted Education Commissioner Dianne Wentzell to convene a group of educators to identify best practices and intensify support for math teachers.

“Nationally, Connecticut has generally been middle of the pack when it comes to math,” Wentzell said. “These scores met our expectations. However, we have room to grow and more to do.”

Wentzell continued: “Math is clearly an area [where] we have significant room for improvement in Connecticut. Another area in need of continued focus and effort is in regards to our chronic achievement gaps.”

Wentzell said their analysis of the results of the SBAC exam reveal achievement gaps among high-need students when they are compared to their peers. A high-need student is low-income, an English language learner, or a student with a disability.

Of all the high-need students in Connecticut, only 30.6 percent are meeting or exceeding the achievement standards on the English portion of the test, whereas 74.9 percent of all their non-high need peers are meeting or exceeding the achievement standard. In math, only 16.4 percent of high-needs students statewide are meeting or exceeding the achievement standards, whereas 57 percent of all their non-high need peers are meeting or exceeding the achievement standard.

In 2015, the Smarter Balanced tests for English and Math replaced the old Connecticut Mastery Test for 3-8 graders and the Connecticut Academic Progress Test for 11th graders. The new SBAC test is supposed to align with the new Common Core State Standards. Students are still administered the CMT for science in grades 5 and 8 and the CAPT test for science in grade 11.

In grade 5, 83 percent of students performed at proficient in science, while 60 percent of students performed at goal. In grade 8, 78 percent of students performed at proficient, while 63 percent of students performed at goal. In grade 11, 78 percent of students performed at proficient while 45 percent of students performed at goal.

“We have a crisis in education in America, and it’s because for too long, expectations were too low,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a press release. “Now, we have a laser-focus on preparing children with the skills they need for college and beyond — the real workforce skills and critical-thinking abilities that students will need for the rest of their lives. That’s why we’re at this important transition point and that’s why we’ve set this new baseline upon which to measure ourselves.”

Connecticut’s teachers have been skeptical of the new test. A survey released by the Connecticut Education Association found 86 percent of teachers reported that the SBAC had a negative effect on the social and emotional well-being of children in their classroom. The survey also found that 43 percent of the 1,666 teachers reported that “significant portions of the test covered content that is not taught at my students’ grade level.” And 85 percent agreed that the SBAC was “an obstacle for my students to overcome.”

Wentzell said last week in an interview with the Journal Inquirer that students who negatively viewed the SBAC test are only reflecting what they see from teachers.

Wentzell said Friday that a bright spot in the Smarter Balanced scores was the performance of the state’s youngest readers. She said more 3rd and 4th graders performed at the top level than any of three other levels.

The Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen said she doesn’t believe the SBAC results.

“Teachers do not think the new statewide SBAC results are an accurate reflection of what Connecticut students know and are able to do,” Cohen said.  “All indications are that SBAC is not only unfair and invalid, but is also a failed experiment.”

Cohen said teachers should spend any time going over the “flawed information provided by the results”.

“Our state’s collective energies will be much better spent identifying testing alternatives and maximizing the great opportunity ensured by the new state Mastery Examination Committee,” Cohen added.

Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut, said educators know student learning is about more than just a test score.

“Today’s results reinforce our position on standardized assessments; we need a more holistic approach to determining outcomes and assuring positive growth for students than ‘teaching to the test’,” Hochadel said. “Since the adoption of the SBAC in Connecticut educators have warned that its early scores could not be used to measure student progress over time. Until there is an additional year of validated results, the scores released today are merely a baseline.”

Supporters of the new SBAC test said parents should not be alarmed by the results.

“It’s important to understand that these results cannot be compared to Connecticut’s legacy exams in any way,” Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, said. “The Smarter Balanced test is measuring students’ progress towards an entirely new and higher goal.”

Click here for full access to the results by district, and school.