Guilford schools focus on steady gains over time

Friday, January 23, 2009 6:17 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The school district has made strides in recent years in the area of standardized test scores, but officials are continuing to work to improve student achievement, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella told community members this week.

At his second “State of the Schools” address, Forcella said that Guilford High School students saw “significant gains” in their Connecticut Academic Performance Test scores this year.

But district officials are focusing on raising curriculum standards and instruction, and increasing collaboration among teachers, in order to build on past improvements.

“There are two ways you’re moving — you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward,” Forcella said. “There’s no such thing as standing still.”

About 75 people attended Wednesday’s event at Guilford High School, a decrease from last year, which was the first time the district had offered a “State of the Schools” presentation for residents. During the talk, Forcella covered topics from the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests, to how to improve school safety and the support the district receives from outside parent groups.

Forcella said that the district’s philosophy is that “all students can achieve.” He also pointed to a recent parent survey that showed that, while 82 percent of parents said that they were satisfied with the school district overall, 65 percent said they feel their children receive the appropriate academic challenge.

“That tells me that the level of rigor has to go up, that we have to provide challenges for kids at all levels,” he said. “Whatever the area is, everybody should be challenged.”

Forcella said that professional development aimed at improving classroom instruction has been a priority for the district in the past few years, and he thinks the results are reflected in the district’s standardized test scores, which rose from 2007 to 2008. He also said the number of students taking AP classes and tests has grown every year since 1995.

“What we found is a significant increase this year, in the state of Connecticut we had the second-highest gains in our CAPT scores,” he said. “Those things don’t happen in one year — it happens over time.”

He also discussed the proposed 2009-10 district budget, which includes a 3.7 percent increase over the 2008-09 package. That is a lower increase than the schools have received in recent years.

But the district is hoping to continue upgrading technology and to make some improvements to Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School, while a task force has recommended replacing the school and the Board of Education has voted to send a proposal to build a new Guilford High School to referendum.

“It is a difficult year and as we look at what we do over time, the best way to budget is to try to keep things as consistent as possible, you don’t want to have a lot of peaks and valleys,” he said. “Our hope is things do turn around (and) this is a one-year blip on the radar screen.”

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