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Connecticut Closes the Proficiency Gap and Raises Expectations for Students

• Patricia Levesque

CTv2 ProficiencyMatters


On August 28, the Connecticut State Board of Education made a difficult decision to ensure the future success of the state’s children. The board voted to raise expectations for students.

Each state sets its own academic requirements for reading and math, and its own passing scores on state tests to determine if students truly are proficient in the subjects. In some states, test scores accurately reflect proficiency. In others, they do not because passing scores are set too low.

Until recently, Connecticut fell into the latter camp.

For years, students in Connecticut public schools were passing their state assessments under the false assumption that passing scores verified proficiency in these critical subjects. In reality, students and their families were being misled by tests that were too easy and passing scores that were set too low.

But then the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to approve the performance level threshold scores for the Smarter Balanced test given to students last spring.

Connecticut’s new proficiency expectations are aligned with student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is considered the gold standard for measuring student proficiency. The difference between NAEP and individual states’ proficiency expectations are wide and varied. This discrepancy is called a “proficiency gap.” Previously, Connecticut had low proficiency expectations resulting in a proficiency gap of nearly 40 percentage points.

Governor Dannel Malloy, State Commissioner of Education Dr. Dianna R. Wentzell and Connecticut leaders have put an end to the charade of low expectations by adopting more rigorous tests and setting passing scores at a level that reflects true, in-depth knowledge of the subjects. These are not easy decisions but necessary ones to ensure the future success of children.

And because of their actions, Connecticut will be able to ensure students are able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of grade-level content and will be able to graduate ready for college-level coursework.

Requiring more of students will always be harder than requiring less. But Connecticut’s children deserve to be challenged to master the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in the next grade and life after high school.

In-state organizations ConnCAN and Connecticut Council for Education Reform launched a website, This site is a resource to inform parents, teachers and students about the nuances of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and provides updated news, analysis and need-to-know information.

Read about Smarter Balanced testing in Connecticut here, and visit ExcelinEd’s website for more facts, graphics and sharable content. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ProficiencyMatters.

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at