Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good News at Macdonough Featured in the Courant

Middletown's Macdonough School Closing Achievement Gap

The Hartford Courant

August 6, 2009


Macdonough School, which officials once considered closing, is now being highlighted as an example of how to close the education achievement gap.

The school, which has the highest number of poor students of the eight elementary schools in Middletown, showed the greatest improvement locally on the Connecticut Mastery Test this year.

This result builds on its previous year's performance. In 2008, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, an advocacy group, placed the school on its Top 10 list of most improved schools in the state and will likely do so again this year, said Marc Porter Magee, the group's chief operating officer.

"It's a real leader for the state," Magee said. "It's the kind of school that other principals should be visiting to find out what's working."

This year, more Macdonough students placed at the highest level on the CMT and fewer scored at the lowest level than last year, school officials said. Before last year, the school had historically placed last in Middletown. But this year, the school's third-graders scored the highest in the city in the CMT's writing category, with 97 percent reaching proficiency or higher. Last year, the school's fifth-grade writing scores were No. 1 in the city.

Districtwide however, with the exception of reading, Middletown's scores were flat, said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Senges. The number of all test-takers in grades 3 through 8 who attained the more advanced category of "goal" in reading was 9.1 points higher than the state average from 2006 to 2009, she said. The number of city students who achieved the category of "proficient" in reading was 8.1 points higher than students across the state during the same period.

Those numbers, she said, should soothe parents who worry that advanced students will suffer when teachers give more attention to weaker readers.

It's The Teachers
Jon Romeo, the school's principal for the past three years, attributed his school's improvement to the teachers, who last year began working with one another in earnest to identify and target their students' weaknesses. The school also has benefited from student volunteers from Wesleyan University and from the advocacy of the North End Action Team, which has sought to help parents better express their needs to school and city officials.

That collaboration, Magee said, has turned the school into a community project.

"Everyone in Middletown should feel good about what they're accomplishing," he said.

With its wealthy swaths, pockets of poverty and large achievement gap, Middletown is a microcosm of Connecticut, Magee said. Statewide and nationwide, there is a consistent gap in test results between students of color and white students. In Connecticut, African American and Latino students generally score about 30 points lower than their white peers. Students of color fare somewhat better in Middletown, where they score about 20 points behind white students.

Macdonough's principal and teachers, some of whose students face such disadvantages as poor access to medical care and insufficient academic support at home, hold key answers for other educators who also are grappling with the achievement gap, Magee said. The school is among the state's top performing schools when ranked according to the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. About 80 percent of Macdonough's students qualify for that program.

"If every school was doing what Macdonough is doing, Connecticut would go from having the largest achievement gap in the country to having the smallest gap," Magee said. "The way the gap is going to get closed is through principals like Jon Romeo, who day in and day out ... focus on catching kids up and setting the ball higher and higher."

Macdonough's success also demonstrates that student test results — which were originally used as an accountability tool and considered oppressive — can help teachers understand their students' comprehension and become an effective teaching tool, Magee said.

From Disney To Harry Potter
Some of the students who have benefited most from Macdonough's collaborative teaching style are Alezei Rosario, Mekhi Mickens and Carlos Perez — all of whom started out at the CMT's lowest reading level in the fourth grade and placed just one level below "advanced" the next year, Romeo said. The boys will enter sixth grade next month.

Alezei, 11, who began by reading relatively simple Disney books such as "101 Dalmations," advanced to reading Harry Potter books. At school he worked with an aide; at home he read to himself and his sister, now 5. He said that the Harry Potter series satisfies his craving for adventure and commotion.

"I just kept on and kept on reading," he said. "I started reading in school and reading on the school bus."

Kym Ciccia, a Macdonough teacher who helps struggling students in reading and math, said the school's success has boosted the morale of its students. She credited Romeo with helping to turn around the school's test scores.

"It's definitely just a feeling that we can succeed and we can do better," Ciccia said.

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant

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