BETHLEHEM — Bethlehem Elementary School students are reminded every morning to be “Bulldog proud,” a salute to the school’s longtime mascot and a call for students, and even staff, to always try their best.
It appears to be working.
Earlier this week, the elementary school was named a “School of Distinction,” one of only 10% of Connecticut elementary schools to receive the designation, specifically in the areas of math and special needs.
The honor recognizes Bethlehem Elementary, part of Region 14 schools serving both Bethlehem and Woodbury, for its success over time in closing what is known as “the achievement gap” and for meeting “everyone’s needs.”
Last year’s statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment results for fourth- and fifth-graders show that 94.8% of Bethlehem students met their average target growth rate in math. The state average was 62.5%. Last year, Bethlehem Elementary scored a 65.7%.
The state’s tracking of these numbers is based on the Next Generation Achievement System, which assigns each Connecticut student a target to reach based on his or her abilities. The goal is to narrow “the achievement gap” so all students, no matter what their level, can achieve growth.
“It’s exciting,” said Principal Alyce Misuraca, who received the news Tuesday. “It’s validation that as a staff we are meeting the needs of all our students.”
The 94.8% level is by far the highest for Bethlehem students since the system first began in 2015-16, not long after the state did away with the Connecticut Mastery Tests.
Misuraca said the CMT’s were all about getting each student to a Level 3, for example. But, she said, not every kid could get there, so measuring students’ success based on their individual abilities gives a more realistic picture of a school’s success.
Misuraca is in her second year at Bethlehem Elementary, arriving at the same time as Jen Schnitzer, the school’s coordinator for math and science. Both have spearheaded a movement toward creating “flexible and adaptive” learners through less “procedural learning” so that students understand the “how” and “why” and not just the “what.”
“It’s about meeting and reaching everybody’s needs,” Schnitzer said. “It’s about meeting them where they are, and our challenge as educators is to meet them where they are and to be able to differentiate and give them what they need to reach their target.”