Parents who criticized Riverfield Elementary School's principal and district administrators after the school was cited as failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law are expressing satisfaction that their concerns are being heard following meetings last week with school officials.

"I feel like we're being listened to now," said Nancy Haberly, who earlier said it took three years to get her son in a special education program, despite the fact he came to the school system from another state with an Individualized Education Program.

"Overall, it was a very positive meeting because there was a feeling of honesty," parent Lisa Davy said. "A feeling of letting go and moving forward. ... (Principal Paul Toaso) has already taken some action to open up communication, which has been one of the biggest issues."

She said she feels Toaso has not always addressed issues "head on," such as the recent Connecticut Mastery Test scores.

Riverfield, based on its students with disabilities subgroup, failed to make adequate yearly progress on last year's CMT. The students with disabilities subgroup failed to make the grade in both reading and math, as fewer than nine in 10 students achieved proficiency as required by the federal law.

The children weren't far from attaining the math goal of 91 percent, as 88.9 percent achieved proficiency, according to Gary Rosato, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Fairfield school district. In reading, however, Riverfield results were not as close to the standard. The target was 89 percent, Rosato said, but only 64.3 percent of the school's students achieved proficiency in the subject.

Haberly said the subpar scores might not be the case if the schools placed children in the special education program sooner. Davy said her son's learning disability was not identified early and he left kindergarten unable to recite the alphabet by memory.

"I don't think there's enough special education educators," Davy said. "I think the process of getting help right away, it just doesn't happen."

However, school officials last week promised to make improvements and to use resources more effectively. Toaso met with Riverfield parents regarding the CMT on Oct. 11, and Superintendent of Schools David Title spoke at a PTA meeting two days later.

Toaso said his session touched on four areas: overview of the contents of the CMT; explanation of preparation for the test; overview of strategies implemented to make sure Riverfield is successful the next time around, and how parents can help support children at home.

"I think we were able to give parents some more in-depth ideas about what our plans are," Toaso said. "We answered a lot of questions. It was a good exchange of information. I'm hoping everybody walked away feeling more comfortable and knowing we're on top of things here at Riverfield."

In addition, Title has devised a protocol for school improvement plans across the district.

"He's asking us to create a two-year plan," Toaso said.

In Riverfield's case, planning with administrators began over the summer and consultation with teachers began when the school year started, according to Toaso. He added the plan will be finalized and submitted to Title next month.

"We want to see all students at Riverfield performing at high levels," Toaso said.

A Sept. 20 blog posting by Title suggested a reason why Riverfield was the only Fairfield school that failed to show adequate yearly progress is too many students in its special education program.

He wrote, "One `catch' is that in order for a sub-group's scores to be reported, there must be at least 40 test takers. If fewer than 40 special education students at a school take the CMT or CAPT, then the sub-group score is not reported or factored into AYP calculations. ... This year, Riverfield School, based on the special education sub-group having more than 40 students tested, and not meeting the 90 percent proficient standard, was identified as having not made AYP.

"No other elementary school had 40 special education students tested (grades 3, 4 and 5 are added together) so we do not know how their special education students would have done under the law. The designation for Riverfield is because of the performance of the subgroup, not the performance of the students overall."

However, Haberly said Wednesday, "Whether you have one child who is struggling, or 42, you still need to address the issue and give help where it is needed."