Study shows: Fairfield's on top

Prompted by the results of a district-wide profile, school administrators said Tuesday that top priorities for the district, going forward, are to address the district's racial imbalance, the student population growth at Osborne Hill Elementary School and the amount of high school instructional hours.

The final meeting of the Board of Education -- at least the group that has included long-time members Dave Weber, Brenda Kupchick and Helen Dodson, who are stepping down -- included a presentation of the strategic school profile (2008-09) on the Fairfield school district.

According to Gary Rosato, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, the yearly profiles, required by state law, are snapshots of the school district and provide the community information regarding how the district is doing in comparison to the state and the district reference group (DRG), of which Fairfield is a part. The group includes Amity, Avon, Brookfield, Cheshire, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Greenwich, Guilford, Madison, Middlebury, Monroe, New Fairfield, Newtown, Orange, Simsbury, South Windsor, Southbury, Trumbull, West Hartford and Woodbridge.

For the most part, Fairfield is doing better than average. For example, the number of kindergarten students who attended preschool, nursery school or Head Start totaled 763, which amounts to 97.2 percent. The DRG figure was 91.3 percent and the state percentage was a much lower 79.7 percent. Also, students identified as gifted and/or talented totaled 11.5 percent, whereas the DRG percentage was only 6.6. The state percentage regarding gifted and/or talented didn't climb above 4 percent.

As far as the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which is given to students spanning grades 3 to 8, and includes reading, writing and mathematics, Fairfield saw slight increases in the number of students making the score goal in the math portion of the CMT at the sixth and seventh grade level. This is notable, as Board of Education member Helen Dodson said the middle level has struggled a bit in the past in both science and math.

However, Dodson was disappointed upon hearing the eighth grade experienced a 0.6 percent decrease (students meeting goal) on the math portion of the CMT.

"I wonder what it is about eighth grade math because we've had this problem year after year," she said.

Rosato pointed out that three different grades (grade 5, grade 6 and grade 7) scored around the 85th percentile at goal.

Dodson then expressed disappointment over the number of instructional hours at the high school level in Fairfield -- with 931 hours, the school district falls behind the DRG's figure of 977. The state average figure is 1,007 hours.

State law requires that at least 900 hours of instruction be offered to students in grade 1-12 and full-day kindergarten. The Town of Fairfield has a reputation for having one of the best school districts but Dodson said something needs to be done to increase instructional hours at the high school level.

"I hope we can get those extra hours in because it really stands out, compared to the state average," she said.

The education board has spent a considerable amount of time looking at revising the high school schedule to include more academic hours, which resulted in the high school administration and teachers forming a committee about a year or so ago. The committee recommended a new schedule, but a change was put on hold due to budget cuts, which meant there weren't enough funds to implement the new schedule.

Board of Education member Brenda Kupchick noticed that the number of students pursuing higher education had dipped a bit, but figured that may have also been a result of the economy. She also wondered if the students pursuing a higher education category included students attending technical schools. Rosato said it did. The number of those pursuing higher education was 88.6 percent, as compared to the state figure of 82 percent.

One area where Fairfield students far outdid state figures was in the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), which is administered to grade 10 students.

In "reading across disciplines," 72.5 percent met the state's goal. The state figure was only 47.4 percent.

In "writing across disciplines," 73.5 percent met goal. The state statistic was 55 percent.

In mathematics, 70.9 percent in Fairfield met goal. The state percentage was only 47.8. In science, the Fairfield figure was 61.2 percent. The state percentage meeting goal was 42.8 percent.

When it comes to physical fitness, only half of Fairfield's school children (50.4 percent) are reaching the health standard on all four tests (flexibility, abdominal strength and endurance, upper-body strength and aerobic endurance). However, that is significantly better than the state percentage of 36.2 percent.

Fairfielders are also leading the state figures on the SAT I: Reasoning Test (Class of 2008). The average score on the math portion in Fairfield was 556. The state average score was 507. The average score of the critical reading portion of the SAT was 548 in Fairfield. The state average score was 503. As far as writing, the average score in Fairfield was 562. The state number was 506.

When it comes to teacher and instructor "average years of experience in education," Fairfield's professionals are right in line with the DRG and the state. The district figure was 13.9 years; the DRG figure was 13.7 years and the state figure was 13.6 years.

As far as the percentage with a master's degree or above, the district has 89.2 percent; the DRG has 83.3 and the state percentage was 76.1.

The average high school class size in Fairfield is also close to the DRG and the state. Fairfield has an average class size of 20.4 students; the DRG figure is 20 students and the state number is 19.3 students. In other grades (kindergarten, grade 2, grade 5 and grade 7), the average class size in Fairfield is either equal to or at one student more than the state figures.

In the "school district diversity" category of the Strategic School Profile, the total minority population is 13.8 percent. Asians and Hispanics made up 11.2 percent of that number. The percentage of black students in the district is only 2.5 percent.

The percentage of professional staff considered minorities doesn't rise above 3 percent, while 7.6 percent of the district's students (excluding pre-kindergarten students) come from homes in which English is not the primary language. The number of students coming from non-English-speaking homes is 239.

Board of Education member Sue Brand, who had the full strategic school profile -- not the shorthand version of it -- said it contained a tremendous amount of information and as such, requested of administrators some idea of what they feel needs to be implemented to improve results in various areas.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ann Clark said there are three priority areas: racial imbalance, Osborn Hill Elementary School (the school population is expected to reach 563 students next year) and the high school schedule. Clark said, "We will be asking the board [at a later date], `Do you want us to address those areas as we go forward with the budget?'"