Wallingford schools report gains in student academics, wellness

WALLINGFORD — Administrators from the high schools and middle schools presented plans for continuing to improve academics and student wellness at this week’s Board of Education Instructional Committee meeting.

Joseph Corso, principal of Lyman Hall High School, and Enzo Zocco, principal of Sheehan High School, started off the presentation with academic updates at the high school level.

Corso said both high schools’ administrators look heavily at PSAT and SAT testing data. The PSAT results show students are improving.

“Our students are continuing to grow,” Corso said. “When they came to us, one of the alarming trends that we saw through the COVID process was that our freshmen are beginning at a lower level.”

Corso said the high schools are using a new universal screener called HMH, which Zocco pointed out takes place three times during the academic year. The data shown during the presentation was from the first assessment.

“It’s a criterion-based assessment that students are assessed against the course standards,” said Carrie LaTorre, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

According to the growth measure HMH, which helps the district examine student achievement, demographic and other necessary data to then come up with a strategic plan to help students succeed, 80% of the students fall in an approaching/on level/above level for math .

For reading, the HMH measure found that 75% of the students are at a level of approaching/on level/above level for math.

LaTorre said it is important to recognize that students who have received a level of “approaching” means they might not have been taught some necessary skills yet.

“They took this in September, the course just started,” LaTorre said.

Corso said staff are working this year to make jumps in these levels.

“We’re looking to focus on both our struggling learners and our high performing learners so we can help each group within our building really progress and make the advances we need to academically,” Corso said.

This data is broken down into categories to see which students are struggling with specific skills in math and reading.

“It really allows our teachers, our instructional leaders and the administrators to really dig deep into that data, look at our curriculum, look to the trends that we see where our kids are struggling and where do we need to give them some reinforcement and where are we excelling and want to make sure we’re keeping the pace there and moving forward,” Corso said.

This data will be helpful when students are preparing to take the PSAT, which takes place this month for freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and the SAT, which happens in March.

Corso said the class of 2023 math scores from the PSAT in fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021 showed no growth.

“On that assessment, we went deep into it and identified areas that we lacked, areas where our students needed additional reinforcement and our math department, what they did is that they took those areas and worked them into almost every unit and activity we had through the year to give them some reinforcement and rework and SAT-based problems and if you look at our SAT that was taken just five months after that PSAT, we grew by 19 points, which is a huge shift,” Corso said.

The new data program will allow the high schools to get data more frequently. However, once students get to upper level math courses, they aren’t tested for the growth measure, Zocco said.

“It’s based on algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry, so we have a chunk of juniors and a lot of seniors that are not in any of those courses anymore so we don’t test them once they move out of those three courses,” Zoco said.

Because some advanced students take a course that is technically for the grade above them, Corso said the results of the HMH assessment may be confusing.

“If you take a student who is in algebra 2, which our advanced students take algebra 2 sophomore year, but algebra 2 is identified as a junior year course on the assessment,” Corso said. “Even though that student is in tenth grade, they might be showing ‘on grade level’ for an eleventh grade course. Technically they are performing above grade level, but they’re showing on grade level right now and that’s just because it’s just assigned to the course itself and not necessarily the student.”

The next HMH assessment will take place in January.

Wellness: High schools

Overall in the two high schools attendance has improved due to fewer students needing to quarantine and fewer discipline referrals.

“Just the improved attendance alone we think is going to have a strong impact on the overall social-emotional health, as well as the academic growth and development of the students,” Corso said.

Staff attendance has also improved, Corso said.

“That was extremely disruptive last year having to figure out who can cover classes and to have students not covered by their actual classroom teacher,” Corso said. “It’s a problem every school in the country faced. We were not special by any means, but it really makes a difference having the teacher standing in front of those students and delivering that material consistently.”

Along with school staff members and the families of students working together to help focus on students’ well-being and behavior, Zocco said that the Wallingford Youth and Social Services are working collaboratively with the high schools.

“They’ve been reaching out to us on the services they can provide both to students and to families,” Zocco said. “Counseling, they want to be invited in and be able to talk to kids about specific topics.”

The Mayor’s Council for Substance Abuse is also in partnership with the schools and the Youth and Social Services to connect with the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) clubs.

“During ribbon week and beyond, we’re coming up with both school and community activities to focus on making good decisions and focus on substance abuse as well,” Zocco said.

Academics: Middle schools

Joseph Piacentini, principal of Moran Middle School, said for both of the town’s middle schools, there is a lot of work to be done to help students improve academically.

The middle schools use iReady Learning, an online reading and mathematics program that determines students’ academic needs. This is a new assessment program for the middle schools.

After administering iReady for the first time this year, Piacentini said a third or more of the middle school students are performing two or more grade levels below proficiency.

“Which is obviously concerning,” Piacentini said.

Seventh grade students, however, have a slightly higher percentage of students who are at or above grade levels in both math and reading when compared to sixth graders and eighth graders.

“What we are also noticing is our math scores are not on par with our literacy scores where a percentage of our students are at or above grade level,” Piacentini said. “It is 10% more in the area of ​​literacy when you compare it to math, so we have a little bit more work to do in both areas.”

Both middle schools have three instructional coaches and interventionists.

“They are basically looking at trying to help teachers within their professional development opportunities and data teams to analyze the assessment data, looking at it and how it is going to impact instruction,” Piacentini said. “… Last year, we got an additional reading and math interventionist, which has also been a tremendous resource for our students. That allowed us to get smaller groups of students with an adult, especially those students who are in need of those growth opportunities.”

Piacentini said the schools’ staff members are working to improve student ownership of learning, along with establishing more honed-in goal-setting meetings with teachers and administrators.

“We want students to take charge of their own learning,” Piacentini said. “It’s tiered from sixth grade to eighth grade, it looks a little bit different, but we’re trying to get teachers to look at those learning targets, student discourse and collaboration.”

Through iReady, there is a resource called MyPath, which is a personalized program for the students, which Piacentini said students will use more consistently this year.

“It gives students a progression of lessons to complete in order to build the skills they need,” Piacentini said. “… It allows teachers to assign them specific lessons to look at their needs and next steps.”

Wellness: Middle schools

The climate survey of staff, students and parents show positive results, said Todd Snyder, principal of Dag Hammarskjöld Middle School.

The number of students who like coming to school went up 8% and the number of students who have a trusted adult at school is 79%.

Snyder said the middle school administrator team wants to increase the number of students having at least one trusted adult at school.

“While that is not a terrible number, we want to increase that much more than that because when students have issues and they have problems, we all want to make sure that they have at least one trusted adult they feel comfortable going to,” Snyder said.

Snyder said the only question that had a decreased response was outsiders feeling welcomed at school, but he said that could be due to the pandemic.

“During that time, visitors and parents couldn’t come into the building as we would have liked,” Snyder said.

The middle schools are in their second year implementing the Nurtured Heart Program, where staff members implement specific social-emotional lessons into their class’ daily routines. They will also create social-emotional goals to help with student engagement.

“As each individual adult is using it, we’re starting to see some really good outcomes in terms of students’ responses,” Snyder said.

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