Torrington, Connecticut’s Story
What is working?
Synthesizing all Torrington’s local community efforts and action plans around grade level reading goals has proven to be an exercise that has benefited all who are actively doing this work. Torrington has been fortunate to have several awards to help move the needle on grade level reading in the positive direction. With that, came multiple action plans all of which are in the process of being knitted together and looked at closely for over-lap and areas in need of .expansion.
What have you accomplished?
Thus far, Torrington has been able to gather all the necessary data for each focus area and is now embarking on the journey of melding existing strategies with the expansion of new strategies.
Over 60 members from 20 agencies are making grade level reading a priority in our community. There is great momentum with a collective focus on accomplishing the following result statement “All of Torrington’s children from birth through age eight are healthy and successful learners”.
School Readiness --Torrington has received two home visiting grants that address child mental health and parenting with early literacy supports through CHILD First and Parents as Teachers programs. Over 50 families are able to receive weekly home visits serving prenatal to age 5. The outcomes of this early intervention are yet to be realized but baseline data is being collected and will be shared as this initiative unfolds.
Torrington has a long history of building capacity around School Readiness:
Grade Level Reading – The needle is moving in the right direction . . . . Overall, 3rd Grade Level Reading Scores have been climbing consistently over the past few years. Those students who were at Goal or Above on the CT Mastery Test Reading Component increased from 45.9% in 2009 to 59.3% in 2012 according to the CT State Department of Education Report.
Summer Learning Loss – Torrington has successfully created a partnership with its Family Literacy Center and Even Start programs with the creation of a summer learning camp for children whose primary language spoken in the home is other than English. This lead experience, attended by children ages 5-9, provided literacy and math supports focusing on comprehension and vocabulary skills. A study of spring assessments compared to fall assessment is underway.
Samples of student’s work:
Student Attendance – Torrington has linked assessment scores to attendance rates. An inventory of at-risk and chronically absent students has been compiled and shared with school staff. Strategies to work with families are underway.
Which barriers have proven most challenging?
Time to convene to sort through data and bring key stakeholders to the table on a regular basis has been a barrier to moving this work ahead in a timely manner.
Specifically with regards to Torrington’s action plan, engaging the most in need and hardest to serve populations has consistently been a barrier to implementing school readiness and acquisition of literacy skill strategies successfully.
What have been the biggest surprises? Disappointments?
None to speak off as of yet J
Have there been any unexpected benefits? Costs?
Technical assistance to explore DATT has been a tremendous help in creating clear charts that illustrate areas of need and highlight students that could benefit from intervention.
What have you learned?
Like many communities, although Average Daily Attendance may look good at first glance – it isn’t until we delved deeper into Chronic Absenteeism data using the DATT that we found outliers that were at risk or chronically absent.
What's the biggest take away?
Education is everyone’s business and by categorizing challenges into core areas, it makes easier for members to find a place where they can contribute and help to overcome barriers. More information will follow as Torrington’s story continues.
More Information on Torrington's Plan:
Welcome to Torrington, Connecticut, a William Capsar Graustein Memorial Fund Discovery Initiative community since 2002 located in the Northwest corner of the state at the base of the Litchfield Hills. As a Discovery community, Torrington fosters collaboration among key partners, advocates for systems change that create a positive impact for families with children birth through age eight and supports parents in decision making roles. The Torrington Early Childhood Collaborative (TECC) has become a staple in the community that oversees all of the work this work that helps to create healthy outcomes for its families and children. Torrington is one of 23 communities implementing a comprehensive Birth through Eight Planning Initiative in Connecticut. Over the past three years, over 80% of its community-owned strategies have been implemented with documented successes on each.
Once a thriving manufacturing center, Torrington has worked for the past 30 years to revitalize itself with some success through the Arts industry with the Art Well Studios, the Warner Theatre and Education Center, and the Nutmeg Conservatory. The majority of the current 35,000 residents are second and third generation descendants of Western European immigrants. During the past ten years, there has been an arrival of a new immigrant population as recognized in the just over 4,500+ student population, approximately 400 students per grade level K-12, in which 15% are students whose primary language is other than English. In 2010, 181 countries of origin and 37 different languages spoken, with Spanish the dominant language, were recorded through the school district registration process and reported to the Connecticut State Department of Education.
The Torrington Public School population continues to diversify. In 2011, there was a growth in the Dual Language Learner population of 8%, an increase of 11% for the population receiving Free & Reduced Lunch, and a rise in unemployment from 8% to 10% during a two year span. In addition, the FISH Shelter has seen an increase in homeless families and has responded to the need for additional family rooms over the past two years. Currently, there are approximately 131 students identified as homeless in 2011 as compared to 87 from the previous year. This is a total growth of 44 students in just one year representing a 50% increase.
With regards to data on low income residents, Torrington exceeds the state’s averages. (In 2009, the percentage of residents in Torrington with income below the poverty level was 10.5% while the state percentage was 9.4%. (http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Torrington-Connecticut.html)Following that trend, in March of 2011, the percentage of unemployed in Torrington was 11.2% in comparison to the state 9.3% for that period. (http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Torrington-Connecticut.html)
A rise in need for not only its residents but those in surrounding towns that utilize Torrington’s support services, has continued to stretch its already limited resources thin. Unique to Torrington is its national micropolitan status. Micropolitan is defined as follows by the US Census Bureau: “ . . . A micro area contains an urban core of at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000) population. Each metro or micro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core.” According to a Rural Policy Research Institute report discussing metropolitan and micropolitan areas, the “smallest micropolitan area in terms of population size is Pecos, TX, with a total population of 11,638, and the largest micropolitan area is Torrington, CT, with a total population of 190,071. http://www.rupri.org/Forms/WP1.pdf
In addition to limited resources that need to support families beyond its city lines, the greatest challenge to a community with a changing population and an increasingly growing number of residents in need of assistance is creating meaningful and accessible family engagement opportunities. As families struggle financially and incoming families with limited English adapt and adjust to their new home and cultural challenges, navigating the system to find help while creating time and space for parent child learning in the home and supports for school work can seem to be an unachievable task.
Torrington, as noted earlier, has been selected as one out of 23 cities/towns in the state of Connecticut to be a Discovery Community. As a Discovery community, Torrington has learned to change the way of doing business. Instead of each organization working in isolation, it has begun to break down the silos. Key stakeholders have learned to use existing resources by establishing partnerships through shared services; and have created long-term relationships to better serve and meet the needs Torrington’s community. One example of this partnership in action was Torrington’s summer reading program. Through the planning process, three summer reading programs were identified operating separately from one another. The City, School and Library combined resources and partnered to offer a streamlined combined summer reading program that included a partnership with the free summer lunch program. This collaboration created a measureable positive impact on the amount of hours read and more families using the library.
Projects/activities, such as the Summer Reading Challenge, have demonstrated a maintenance in summer reading level among those who have participated as measured on the Degrees of Reading Assessment, a required reading assessment of the Connecticut State Department of Education. Furthermore, in respect to grade level reading, Torrington has seen an increase in students testing at proficiency and above on the 3rd Grade Connecticut Mastery Test Reading over the past three years. Although this trend seems promising, last year over 30% (approximately 120 students) were not proficient with a large percentage residing in households defined as low income. As research has shown, there is a large correlation between 3rd Grade Reading and student success in their later school career. Early intervention is vital in order to turn the curve to increase the number of students reading at grade level and graduating high school.
The negative impact on school success in the later years is evident. During the 2009-2010 school year at Torrington High School over 25% of the 9th grade students were repeating a grade and over-age and under credited. This figure was common and on the rise for past years as 26.2% of 9th grade students were repeating in 2008-2009 and 9.1% of 9th grade students repeated in 2007-2008. A review of disciplinary, attendance, and class failures showed a total of 346 students in grades 6-12 during the 2009-2010 school year were identified as “at risk” to drop out of school. This data reflects a four year cumulative dropout rate of 13.5% and an annual dropout rate of 5.6%.
The need to further align community outreach services that support dual language learners and provide early intervention for all children prior to entering school is apparent as numbers continue to grow and families are further stretched to sustain their basic needs. In these past several years, professionals assisting families in need in Torrington describe their collective state of wellbeing as “struggling to survive”.
Torrington is well poised to strategically address these needs that have a direct impact to Summer Learning Loss, School Readiness and Chronic Absenteeism through a data driven approach. Its comprehensive Birth through Eight Plan with a community created result statement of “All of Torrington’s children from birth through age eight are healthy and successful learners” led to the communities’ Birth through Graduation plan which has provided the perfect foundation for the creation of its Community Solution Action Plan. Torrington drew from relationships and the infrastructure it developed over the past several years as the process of collaboration unfolded with multiple partners including representatives from School, Family and Community partnerships. With over 60 active members and 20 agencies represented, local city, state, business, health, senior, parent/guardian, school and faith-based segments of the community played an active role in the creation of this plan.
1. School Readiness
Indicator: Percentage of students participating in preschool programs
Indicator: Performance on the Kindergarten Entrance Inventory – Literacy Domain
Indicator: Referrals to Special Education
Torrington’s kindergarten children have seen a decline over the past few years in terms of the percentage of students improving on the Fall Kindergarten Entrance Inventory, an assessment of kindergartners in the areas of Language, Literacy, Numeracy, Physical/Motor, Creative/Aesthetic and Personal/Social Skills. With respect to the Literacy Domain, in 2010 there were 70% of kindergarten students who at a minimum needed some additional instructional supports in order to be successful learners.
Factors that can help to tell the story behind the data are as follows: As of 2007, 76% of Torrington children have participated in some preschool experience. Although this seems promising, this figure does not identify which program and if it was a quality program that aligns its curriculum with the schools kindergarten curriculum. Economic indicators have also been noted as a contributor in early school success. According to the Strategic School Profiles posted on the State Department of Education web site, the percentage of Torrington students K-6 eligible for free/reduced price meals has increased from 31.3% in 2004-05 to 33.3% in 2007-08 to 45% in 2011-12. According to the report, all district Non-English Home Language where English is not the primary language accounted for 11.1% of Torrington’s students (excluding prekindergarten students). The number of non-English home languages is 37.
In addition to the above challenges, 2011 marked the highest amount of referrals the school district has seen in over a decade when data was first tracked in 1999. Of the 119 referrals in the 2011 school year, approximately half were eligible demonstrating the impact of current economic crisis and the impact it has had in causing toxic stress in families. These alarming numbers are a clear indicator of a need for greater supports and tailored interventions to meet families where they are.
The planning team has conducted further diagnostics of this data to drill down deeper into referrals with respect to accuracy. Science Researched Based Intervention/Response to Intervention (SRBI/RTI) http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Early/EarlyChildhood_SRBI_Manual.pdf is being explored as a tool to implement community-wide in order to increase the referral accuracy rate and raise awareness of the need to create a system of early detection of developmental delays.
Torrington’s lack of early childhood services is one of the highest in the state. According to a 2010 Statewide Needs Assessment for Maternal, Infant, and
Early Childhood Home Visiting Programs, data available on early childhood health and development collectively indicate that children living in urban areas of Connecticut, as well as more rural parts of the State, are at increased risk of poor developmental outcomes. (Map 8 from the report). The assessment, conducted for the Department of Public Health, outlined ten towns of very high need for early childhood services. The following were included: urban areas of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Torrington, Waterbury, and Windham, as well as the smaller town of Ansonia, and the rural towns of Brooklyn, and Putnam.
2. Grade-level reading
Indicator: Percent of Students at Proficient or above on 3rd Grade CT mastery Test Reading
Indicator: Percent of Students not Proficient on 3rd Grade CT Mastery Test Reading
Torrington’s average for Proficient and Above on the 3rd Grade CT Mastery Test Reading compares to the 2009, 2010 & 2011 three year state average of 72%. While these figures seem promising, of those not proficient in reading, students from low income households represent over half the three year 28% average of the total population struggling to read at grade level.
3. Summer Learning Loss
Indicator: Results of summer reading initiative of all children who participated and those who participated in a pilot or lead experience at Forbes School during the summer of 2011.
Although there are low cost/no cost programs in place to help enrich students over the summer, Torrington mirrors the national trend of “summer slide” with regards to summer learning loss among children from low-income families. National research shows that children from low-income families that lack access to enriching experiences lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer. In this scenario, they are nearly three grade levels behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade according to these studies. Torrington is not immune to these circumstances. Scores on Degrees of Reading Assessment 2 reflect similar trends. With limited funding and an increase in economic stress placed on families, a call to action is needed to raise awareness and increase free summer enrichment opportunities for those most in need and hardest to serve.
4. Student Attendance
Indicator: Chronic Absenteeism Defined as 10%+ Missed School Days
Elementary (data development agenda item)
Indicator: Chronic Absenteeism Defined as 10%+ Missed School Days
Middle School (data development agenda item)
Indicator: Chronic Absenteeism Defined as 10%+ Missed School Days
High School (data development agenda item)
While trend data shows an Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of approximately 94%, in the past three school years, this figure does not account for the 6% of students that were absent. It appears the ADA is consistent across gender, race, Dual Language Learners, students with disabilities and gifted and talented students. When analyzing economic indicators of attendance, there is an average difference of 2.8 percentage points with students eligible for Free Lunch being 92.2% ADA versus students not eligible being 95%. According to a report conducted for the State Department of Education that extracted chronic absenteeism data, last year’s statewide chronic absenteeism rate was 14.8% with Torrington at 17.4% district-wide. This is only the beginning of our community’s analysis of the story behind the data. Studies are being conducted on tracking aggregate data on students who have lower than 90% ADA. Recently, Torrington has been able to align assessment scores with student attendance data. More work will be done to address strategies needed in order to eliminate chronic absenteeism in our community.
5. High School Graduation
Indicator: % of Students Drop Out Rate
During the 2009-2010 school year, as noted earlier, over 25% of the 9th grade students were repeating a grade and over-age and under credited. This figure was common for past years as 26.2% of 9th grade students were repeating in 2008-2009 and 9.1% of 9th grade students repeated in 2007-2008. A review of disciplinary, attendance, and class failures showed a total of 346 students in grades 6-12 during the 2009-2010 school year were identified as “at risk” to drop out of school. This data reflects a four year cumulative dropout rate of 13.5% and an annual dropout rate of 5.6%.
Over the past three years, there has been an average of 25 students per year that have dropped out, with students from low income households comprising nearly half of those students who do not complete high school.