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School of Distinction: Weston High School fails to make the grade

While two schools in the area have been named a “School of Distinction” based on the results of the 2011 and 2012 Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) scores and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), Weston High School was not one of them.

Weston sophomores were among the top performers on the 2011 CAPT tests, and Weston scores were across the board on the CMTs, but generally way above the state average.

But the high school does not qualify as a School of Distinction, an honor that is meted out by the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Under the state’s new accountability system, schools singled out for this honor have a high performance on these tests with traditionally underperforming groups — such as students with disabilities.

This new accountability system was established after the Department of Education granted the state a waiver to No Child Left Behind in May 2012.

Instead of naming schools that have low performance scores or are in need of help, the new accountability system recognizes Schools of Distinction and turnaround schools.

Key components to the new system are valuing student achievement across a broader range of performance, integrating all tested subjects, including mathematics, reading, writing and science, and graduation rates.

Schools of Distinction are identified annually and are classified into three different categories — highest performing subgroup, highest progress and highest overall performance.

Schools identified as highest performing subgroup have the highest index scores in the state for each one of the five traditionally underperforming subgroups — students with disabilities, English language learners, black students, Hispanic students, and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Schools identified as highest overall performance have a school performance index (SPI) greater than 88 and are performing within the top 10% of schools across the state. These schools have achievement gaps less than 10 SPI points for the majority of their subgroups, and if they are high schools, they have met their respective graduation rate targets.

“Overall, our numbers on the tests are stellar,” said Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer. In fact, Weston’s SPI for 2011-12 is 94.4, well above the 88 benchmark.

However, the problem lies with the scores of one of the subgroups — students with disabilities — which is lower in Weston when compared to other schools.

Because the achievement gap between Weston’s students with disabilities subgroup and its other test takers is more than 10 SPI points, Weston was not eligible to be named a School of Distinction.

Dr. Palmer said the district is researching to see if the state is correct in its evaluation of Weston.

In the meantime, she said, she takes the state’s review seriously. “We have an area in our district we need to work on, and we intend to close that gap,” she said.

Ridgefield High School and Wilton High School were named Schools of Distinction with highest performing subgroups. Ridgefield’s subgroup is reduced priced meals and Wilton’s is students with disabilities.

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