Five local elementary and high schools have been named Schools of Distinction by the state Department of Education.
School officials in New London, East Lyme, Lyme, Groton and Waterford were notified beginning Nov. 30 that their schools had achieved the required levels of performance for the distinction.
Schools of Distinction are identified by the state department annually and are placed in one of three different groups: the highest performing subgroup, the school with the highest progress and the highest overall performance on either the Connecticut Mastery Test or the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.
Individual schools were identified this year by using data from the 2011 and the 2012 CMT and CAPT tests. The CMT is administered to students in third- through eighth-grades while the CAPT is given to students in the 10th grade.
The highest performing subgroup consists of two schools, one elementary and one high school in each of the subgroup categories: students with disabilities, English language learners, Black students, Hispanic students and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Waterford's Clark Lane Middle School was among the 19 Schools of Distinction in Connecticut with the highest performing subgroup of Black students on the CMT.
Another measure of progress used to determine a School of Distinction is a school's School Performance Index.
The SPI is an average of student performance in all tested grades and subjects for a given school. The SPI also allows for the evaluation of school performance across all tested grades, subjects and performance levels on the CMT and the CAPT.
According to the state department, the use of SPI and a school's graduation rate improves upon the "less flexible approach" of No Child Left Behind by incorporating student growth and performance across all levels rather than only tracking the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level.
Connecticut applied for a federal waiver for certain aspects of NCLB and was approved, with exemptions, in May.
New London's Nathan Hale Elementary School was one of 17 schools in the state with the highest progress on the CMT among schools with a SPI of less than 88.
Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said Monday that Nathan Hale is "above the state's requirement" for being a School of Distinction because at an SPI of 81, on average, all students are at target level.
Fischer said that the state's target for all its schools is an SPI of 88 on its 0-100 index scale. At an SPI of 100, students will have performed at the "goal" level on the majority of tests they take. Goal is a higher standard set by the state of Connecticut.
The Lyme Consolidated School, the Niantic Center School and LEARN's Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, earned places among 28 schools in the state that earned recognition in the category of highest overall performance.
To earn that distinction, students must perform among the highest 10 percent of schools in the state and have an SPI of greater than 88. These schools also have achievement gaps less than 10 SPI points for the majority of their subgroups and, if they are high schools, have met their target graduation rates.
Niantic Center School Principal Melissa DeLoreto said Monday that the school's academics helped achieve the distinction of "highest overall performance," a category based on student performance on state test scores.
She credited the teachers and paraprofessionals, who have strong working relationships with each other and often teach there for many years, for creating a strong academic environment.
DeLoreto explained that the school treats students individually to "take them from where they are and move them forward." To that effect, the school intervenes when students struggle with academics and provides enrichment opportunities when students perform above grade-level, she said.
Niantic Center School is a school of 197 students from kindergarten to fourth-grade level. The school also follows a "looping" model, in which instructors teach two grade levels. For example, a student would have the same teacher for first grade, as well as second grade, said DeLoreto.
"Everybody works together for what's best for kids," she said.
Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this story.