Some schools may cram for the Connecticut Mastery Test as the test taking date approaches, but the atmosphere is a lot calmer at Monroe Elementary School. Principal Debra Kovachi says there is no direct preparation for the test, because what students need to know is built into the curriculum.
"It becomes what we do," she said. "That's incorporated in our day all the time, beginning in September and all the way through."
Sharon McCauley, a reading consultant at Monroe Elementary School, remembers seeing students stressed out over taking the CMT in the past. "They don't anymore," she said. "They're comfortable and feel prepared."
In fact, a celebratory breakfast is held the day before the big test.
Kovachi said, "We celebrate with a breakfast for the kids before they take the test as a way to say, 'You're doing a good job this year. Thank you for working so hard."
The Parent-Teacher Organization hosted the breakfast and presented the children with T-shirts touting Monroe Elementary School pride.
That game plan paid off in a big way when Monroe Elementary School finished in the top 10% of more than 1,200 Connecticut schools taking the CMT or CAPT in 2011-12. It was among only 46 schools to earn status as "A School of Distinction" from the State of Connecticut Board of Education.
There are three categories for a School of Distinction. Monroe Elementary's is "Highest Performing". The other two categories are "Highest Performing Sub-Group" and "Highest Progress".
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor called Monroe Supt. of Schools James Agostine to notify him of Monroe Elementary School's achievement on Nov. 30.
"It's certainly a bright spot for Monroe Elementary School," Agostine said Wednesday.
The state goal is for schools ot reach a School Performance Index of 88 by the year 2018, and Agostine pointed out that Monroe Elementary School did it early.
Monroe Elementary School had an School Performance Index of 96.2. Other town schools also scored high SPI scores, including Fawn Hollow 92.8, Stepney 92.1 and Jockey Hollow 92.9 and Masuk 84.9.
Agostine said all of Monroe's elementary and middle schools have SPI targets of "Maintain".
Kovachi said, "Monroe did very well overall, so you're not talking about a huge difference between the schools."
This is No Lock Down
When Kovachi first heard the news of Monroe Elementary being named a School of Distinction, she took some time to absorb what it all meant before doing something she almost never does — she made a midday announcement.
"Some teachers thought I would do a lock down," Kovachi said with a chuckle.
She said school administrators had known their SPI was high, but had not seen how compared with other schools before.
McCauley said, "I think we're always just so proud of each other as colleagues and how hard the students and teachers work."
The PTO put on a lunch last week to celebrate Monroe Elementary's achievement and Kovachi said the school may host another event.
When asked why Monroe Elementary School students performed so well on the CMT, Kovachi said there were no major changes in programs, curriculum or teaching techniques that standout. In her 11 years as principal, every day assessments of students and curriculum has been an ongoing process.
"I think we want to stay the course, and I think we're always improving," Kovachi said. "It's been a process. It didn't happen overnight. We think of strategies to help students to improve their achievement. There's a lot of planning and focused instruction."
Darleen Fensore, special education teacher and school math coach, said, "We have good leadership in our schools — and not just Mrs. Kovachi, but the teachers."
Kovachi, added, "I think the teachers in this building all take responsibility for their students' learning and they don't settle for anything but their best work."
Teachers are always assessing students to determine what kind of support they need and data is collected every week as administrators look at groupings and strategies, according to Kovachi.
"Over time we added new and different strategies," she said. "It's from many years of doing it."
McCauley said, "There's total investment by our students, teachers and parents."
Of the parents, Kovachi said, "I think they trust us to do what's best for their kids and they support our programs and activities."