State school chief hears Fairfield concerns
Updated 6:41 am, Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Stefan Pryor, the state's recently appointed education commissioner, acknowledges that Fairfield's public schools are "high-performing," but wants to know if there is anything the state can do to push local students' performance even higher.
During an appearance Tuesday night in Fairfield on his statewide listening tour, Pryor heard local school officials suggest that the state shift its focus in measuring student performance. The session took place before the Board of Education's regular meeting.
"I would like to make sure the state emphasizes a well-rounded education," said Superintendent of Schools David Title, "and not push for measuring everything on test scores."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, for example, sets a goal of 100 percent of students meeting its proficiency standards in three years.
School board member Sue Brand said teacher evaluations should not be outcome based, but based instead on the strategies a teacher uses to help a child learn.
"We need to define what is a good teacher," she said.
Pryor said it is important for the school board to shed light on any "barrier-creating" regulations, because in high-performing districts especially, "we want to get out of your way."
Title said the state certification regulations for teachers "are often a barrier" to attracting talent from outside the state.
"It's a barrier that I don't think other states have," he said.
Brand also suggested there should be some kind of assessment to "evaluate the end result," to gauge if a high school graduate is ready for college or the workforce.
Although Fairfield's school district is doing fine, Pryor said the state has work to do to improve statewide student performance. Citing National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, he said Connecticut, despite being the wealthiest state in the union, also has the largest achievement gap between high- and low-performing students.
"It's not because we're soaring so high in some communities that the gap widens. Unfortunately it's because we're getting out-paced by other states." He said Massachusetts, North Dakota and South Dakota, even New Jersey, rank overall better than Connecticut.
Newly elected board member Jessica Gerber then asked what those states are doing that Connecticut isn't.
"We are studying that extensively," Pryor said. "The results are only a couple of weeks old, but many states do a better job of supporting lower-performing schools than we do."
Before the discussion ended, Brand also said there should be more consistency across the state in regard to how special education students' needs are identified and addressed.
"There's a tremendous amount of disparity," she said.
Fairfield's Board of Education is the second that Pryor has met with on his listening tour so far. He previously visited with New Haven's board.
After the meeting, Pryor said local comments in Fairfield aren't the first time that he has heard concerns about the state's "intrusiveness" in local education matters.