As a professor of teacher education and a literacy specialist for more than 30 years, I was disappointed to learn that the New Haven Public Schools dropped Fair Haven Elementary School from a “Tier II” to a “Tier III” school. This downgrade was based on Connecticut State Mastery Test scores and a rating system that the New Haven Public Schools employs to rate its public schools.
This system and these ratings are in a word, “ludicrous.” I challenge anyone in New Haven to prove to me the relevance of these ratings. First and foremost, the ratings are based on CMT scores, tests which have been patently understood by all educators for years as poor indicators of student growth and achievement, so much so that after 2014, these tests will no longer be given. How could any district rate their schools and label them based on testing they know is inadequate at best?
Furthermore, Fair Haven School is the largest elementary school in the city, enrolling more children than any other school (720 children vs. an average of 400-500), and has the highest percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) in the city’s elementary schools – (52%).
These ELL students are required to take the math and science CMT’s in English, no matter how little English they speak. After 10 months in the United States, these students are also required to take the reading and writing portions of the CMT’s. Any of us, regardless of our academic competence, would be hard-pressed to pass such tests in another language and culture. The research indicates it takes at least seven years to gain language proficiency at this level.
As someone whose life’s work has been to help people learn how to teach, and to help schools across Connecticut improve their teaching staffs and their student learning outcomes, I can highly recommend Fair Haven School.
When the School of Education at Quinnipiac University began looking for a high quality, urban public school that its faculty felt comfortable sending teacher candidates into, Fair Haven immediately came to my mind.
While supervising student teachers at Fair Haven, I was deeply impressed with the quality of their early literacy program in particular, and genuinely blown away by the climate of the school which was immaculate, welcoming, happy and caring. For those perhaps unused to walking the halls of public schools, this kind of environment is rare. Many of the schools I visit daily are loud, dirty, angry places. Some are controlled, regimented, quiet, and sadly without joy. Fair Haven was unique. People smiled, children laughed, staff offered to help, secretaries hugged children. I knew this was the kind of school I wanted our young teacher candidates to experience.
The staff opened its classroom doors to Quinnipiac without hesitation. Teachers spoke proudly of students’ achievements, little ones treated each other respectfully and kindly, even grandmothers, reading to children in the hallways in their native Spanish smiled and waved as I was told about the “abuela program,” which brought older members of the community in to read to the children in their native languages.
So here we have a public school doing all the right things, who have the highest rating of any school in the city in terms of parent, teaching staff and student climate surveys, who have enormous challenges of socioeconomic and language barriers and yet who embrace professional development, opening their doors to scrutiny while helping young teachers to hone their skills. Instead of lauding them as exemplary – which they are – we “downgrade” them via a single, ill-determined indicator. I suggest that the New Haven Central Office stop seeing the speck in someone else’s eye through these rating systems, and begin to recognize the log in their own.
Anne Dichele is a professor in the School of Education at Quinnipiac University, which last year identified Fair Haven Elementary School as a Professional Development Partnership School.