HARTFORD, CT — State Board of Education member Malia K. Sieve listened for close to an hour Wednesday as her fellow board members and professionals in the field discussed Connecticut’s disappointing results on a well-known nationwide science test.
She listened to speakers and watched slide-after-slide on an overhead projector of other states surpassing Connecticut in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress science assessment.
When she finally spoke up, her words captured the full attention of her fellow board members.
“I’m so fired up, not in a good way,” Sieve said.
Sieve is a director at HCM Strategies where her full-time job is to work with institutional leaders on education policy.
“I’m tired of us all talking so politely,” Sieve said.
What the test results clearly indicate, Sieve said, “is we do a better job with one population. We’re doing a whole lot better by our white kids.”
Apologizing for getting emotional, Sieve went on to say that, “We act like if we talk politely — it will all be fine.”
But by doing that it means “we have not decided that we have to do anything differently yet,” Sieve said.
Sieve’s passionate words came after a presentation about nationwide science tests taken by fourth and eighth graders in 2015 that showed Connecticut is falling behind other states, though Education Department Chief Performance Officer Ajit Gopalakrishnan and Renee Savoie, an education consultant, termed the state’s performance as “stagnant.’’
Gopalakrishnan did tell board members that “other states are going past us.” And Savoie added: “Lots of states are outperforming us.”
Connecticut students in fourth grade are outperforming students in only 12 states and eighth grade students in 16 states.
NAEP testing results showed, according to Gopalakrishnan:
• Connecticut’s overall NAEP performance has remained the same from 2009 to 2015 while many other states have improved;
• Some progress has been made in closing the White-Hispanic gap in both Grades 4 and 8.
In Grade 4, statistics show there was a 38 point scale score gap between White and Black students in 2009; in 2015 that gap was 35 points, which according to educators was “not statistically significant.”
In Grade 4, statistics show there was a 39 point gap between White and Hispanic students in 2009; in 2015 that gap was 31 points a gap change that was deemed an improvement by educators.
In Grade 8, there was a 38 point gap in science test scores between White and Hispanic students in 2009; in 2015 that gap was 34 points, a gap change that again was deemed “not statistically significant.”
In Grade 8, there was a 37 point gap between White and Hispanic students in 2009; in 2015 that gap was 30 points, a gap change that was deemed an improvement.
Erik M. Clemons, an African-American board member, thanked Sieve for her strong comments about minority students not testing as well as white pupils.
Clemons told Sieve it makes a difference when a white person isn’t afraid to say that minority children are being left behind – education-wise.
“I appreciate you saying that,’’ Clemons told Sieve.
Also applauding Sieve for her candidness was Vice Chairperson Theresa Hopkins-Staten.
“We like to blame Black and Hispanic students,” Hopkins-Staten said. “We have to do things differently — meeting the students, making them believe.’’
School Board Chairman Allan B. Taylor said the board needs to stop sugarcoating bad news — i.e. writing press releases trumpeting improvement in test scores by minorities even though those scores are still below overall averages.
“When we pull our punches it doesn’t contribute toward the mobilization our kids deserve,” Taylor said. “All the states in New England are better in science. Florida was behind and is now ahead of us.”
Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said it “was a good time’’ for the board to be having a frank conversation about test scores and student performance in Connecticut public schools.
She said the test results — because they are statewide numbers — are difficult to break down into a town-by-town format to digest. But, she said, it is very useful information for the board and education advocates to have to put “in front of state policy makers’’ when issues such as school funding and programming are being discussed.