As an independent educational consultant, it is very important to have a thorough understanding of schools about which I may speak with my client families. This led me to build my knowledge of the Stamford Public Schools. The by-product of this research is presented below.
The Truth about Stamford Public Schools’ Excellent SAT Scores Finally Recognized
Market research surfaces a fresh, fairer look at the Stamford Public Schools (SPS). The past, inappropriate SAT score reporting is finally dispelled and new research reveals SPS success at high-end, high-accomplishment learning.
Over the years, opinions have devalued Stamford’s public schools due to reported average SAT scores that were well below those of Darien, New Canaan, and Greenwich. These views pervade every-day conversations, are promoted socially by word-of-mouth and are reported through media and SAT reporting services. But, reporting averages for Stamford is neither accurate nor tells the full story. Let’s see why.
As an educational consultant in Fairfield County, I have looked in depth at the Stamford Public School System, met with administration officials and principals, and toured many public schools. The school system offers 13 elementary schools, 5 middle schools, and 3 high schools, including 7 magnet schools. I like what I learned and saw. There is an abundance of support, resources, and challenge offered to all students of varying abilities. Additionally, SPS has a 10:1 student to certified staff ratio. This is lower than many private and independent schools.
Stamford Public School Partnered with Cambridge Education
Stamford Public School recently partnered with Cambridge Education, a management consulting organization specializing in school improvement to design the 2019-2022 District Strategic Improvement Plan. SPS has set its goals to “continuously improve its effective, innovative and transformational teaching and learning.” SPS is not resting on its laurels. Stamford High is one of just nine Connecticut high schools offering the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate (IB) World School for the Diploma Programme (DP), joining 147 countries globally. In Stamford, the IB program begins at Rogers International School, a K-8 IB World School. I personally know Darien families who travel to Stamford to have their young children begin Stamford’s IB program.
SPS also offers specialized focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) learning for tomorrow’s careers and world solutions. The Scofield Magnet Middle School core theme focuses on math, science and technology. The school sets a high bar for learning with all classes offered at the honors level only. The coup de grace is an 8th grade capstone project wherein students select a technology–related topic and pursue interdisciplinary research. The result is an advanced degree-like project and includes written and oral presentations supported with visual and creative components. Most graduates continue on to SPS’s Academy of Information Technology and Engineering for continued STEM concentrations in high school.
At the high school level, Stamford offers 29 Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This compares to Darien’s 20, New Canaan’s 26, and Greenwich’s 30 AP level courses. While the four schools are competitive at this level, the student populations are quite dissimilar. Darien and New Canaan each have 10% minority populations, Greenwich has a 31% minority population and Stamford, in stark contrast, has a 70% minority student population. Diversity in a school sets the stage for real-world global learning and exposure to other languages and cultures (75 languages are spoken throughout the SPS system).
Within this diverse student population are students who are new to the country or for whom English is not their first language. When this population of students takes tests in English, specifically the SATs, their performance can be far below those students for whom English is the native language.
Superintendent Mr. Earl Kim and The Stamford Advocate, July 2018
In his interview with the Stamford Advocate, July 2018, then Superintendent Mr. Earl Kim pointed out that the diversity in Stamford’s student population results in two sets of data within one school district. “This phenomenon is why our scores do not follow a regular bell curve — with many scores in the middle and a few on the high and low ends. Instead, our scores look more like a two-humped camel — with a majority of scores at either end of the spectrum and very few in the middle.”
Mr. Kim was referring to a bi-modal distribution. Here’s a simple example of a bi-modal distribution. In one class there is a group of students who did not study and a group of students who did study (i.e. two populations in one class). The students who did not study will generally not score well and will be clustered within the first distribution (hump). The students who did study will be grouped within the second higher performance distribution. It makes no sense to compare the two groups other than to recognize that one studied and one did not. Similarly, to average the two together is meaningless.
Darien, New Canaan, and Greenwich students’ SAT scores, by contrast, are more clustered in a single hump, following a more normal bell-shaped curve, and have meaningful average (mean) scores.
Since it is not meaningful to compare the Stamford school district average SAT scores to the other three school districts, I endeavored to find a way to make a more realistic comparison. Through research, I obtained the following statistical data for the top 10% SAT scores from each school district for 2017-2018.
School District ELA MATH TOTAL SAT SCORE
Darien 735 773 1508
New Canaan 739 775 1514
Greenwich 745 787 1532
According to The College Board, which reports SAT scores and percentiles on a national level, a 2017-2018 SAT score of 1398 is in the 94th percentile and classified “excellent”.
Research also clearly indicates that family affluence favorably impacts SAT scores. Affluence can boost SAT performance with SAT-prep courses and tutors and an opportunity to afford to take the SAT exam over and over. College Simply notes that Darien and New Canaan, for example, are towns of great family wealth. As Mr. Kim noted to the Stamford Advocate, “Stamford has students whose parents spare no expense for SAT prep courses or private tutors.” But, far fewer Stamford families can afford this level of support, and repeated SAT test-taking is far less frequent than in neighboring towns.
The Bottom Line
Simply put – the Stamford Public Schools do an outstanding job of preparing its students for the SAT exams and for college with relatively little reliance on family support. Stamford’s 94th percentile national SAT ranking is an accurate assessment of the talent and skills of the teachers who teach, the high-end learning taking place in the classrooms, and the excellent achievement on the part of the students. Stamford 2018 and 2019 graduates are attending Ivy League schools (Columbia University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University and Yale University) and other great colleges: Stanford University, Georgetown University, M.I.T., UNC at Chapel Hill, University of CA Berkeley to name a few.