The percentage of Darien Public School students who achieved goal-level scores in the Connecticut Mastery Test [CMT] and Connecticut Academic Performance Test [CAPT] was significantly greater than the state average in each subject at each grade level, according to test results, which were made public earlier this month.

CMT tests are administered to third- through eighth-grade students throughout the state, and CAPTs are administered to 10th-graders. Each year, students in these grade levels complete tests that assess their abilities in math, writing and reading. Additionally fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are tested in science.

"What we see are generally positive trends, and that's always what we're looking for," Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said on Monday. "Particularly strong is what we did in terms of cohorts."

Since tests are administered in every grade level, it is easy to track how classes have progressed throughout their academic careers.

"More students are meeting goal as the children get older," he said. Goal is the state target for student performance.

In fact, in 13 of the 15 tests, there was growth year-over-year when analyzing cohorts, Falcone said.

In this year's seventh-grade class, 95.2 percent of the 376 students tested in Darien met the state's goal in math. This shows growth from that cohort's performance last year. In 2009, as sixth graders, 93.8 percent of the class met goal; 89.7 percent of the class did so as fifth graders in 2008; 86.9 percent as fourth graders in 2007 and 85 percent as third graders in 2006.

The seventh-graders also improved from 88.9 percent reaching goal in writing as third graders to 92.3 percent doing so this year, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education. When that same class was tested in reading for the first time as third graders in 2006, 84.4 percent achieved goal; this year, 97.3 percent did so.

A greater percentage of that class met goal in reading and writing this year than in New Canaan, Fairfield, Greenwich, Wilton or Westport.

"We also take a look at how we do year-to-year," Falcone said. "How did the seventh graders this year do compared to the seventh graders last year? That's something to look at."

Those results were mixed.

The percentage of students who met goal in mathematics increased over last year in six of the eight grade levels tested. In reading and writing, that percentage increased in four grade levels, but slipped in the other four. Science tests are only administered in fifth, eight and 10th grades; a lower percentage of this years fifth- and 10th-graders met goal than last year, while the percentage of eighth graders who met the mark climbed slightly.

In the 10th grade science CMT, 66.8 percent of Darien student met goal -- the lowest percentage of Darien students to meet goal in any subject at any grade level. Only 45.5 percent of students statewide met goal in the 10th-grade science test.

"The state science test is one that involves a broad knowledge of topics, including earth science, physical science and life science," Falcone said.

"Some schools have a program that I would call more of a survey-style program, where you learn all those kinds of disciplines in a year," he said. In Darien, students focus on one science per year. They begin with biology, before choosing to take either earth science supplemented with some chemistry or chemistry supplemented in earth science, Falcone said.

But science wasn't the only subject the 10th-graders struggled with. A lower percentage of 10th-graders met goal in each of the four subjects when compared to last year's 10th-graders.

In math, 85.4 percent of last year's 10th-graders met goal, compared with 80.4 percent this year; 84.4 percent of last year's 10th-graders met goal in reading, but only 78.5 percent did so this year; the percentage dropped from 90.3 to 89 in writing; and 73.6 to 66.8 percent in science.

Darien wasn't the only school district to feel this slippage, according to Tom Murphy, of the Connecticut Department of Education.

"There were overall slight gains in CAPT statewide, but we also saw some disappointments in math and science," he said.

"It confirms our recognition that our high school students need a greater emphasis on math and science in order to be prepared for the global economy," Murphy said Monday. As a result, the State has proposed secondary education reform in Connecticut.

"We're going to be changing the structure of high school to have a greater emphasis on math, science and world language," he said. "We've always had a strong tradition of excellent public schools, and we want to keep that edge. We know it's very important to our Connecticut economy, so we're moving forward with this secondary school reform."

While the percentage of students who met goal in writing throughout the state hovered in the 50s and 60s, the range of Darien was between 81.8 percent in third grade and 92.3 percent in seventh grade. In fact, Darien had a higher percentage of students meeting goal in forth, sixth and seventh grade than the neighboring towns of New Canaan, Fairfield, Greenwich, Westport and Wilton.

Additionally, 100 percent of Hindley and Tokeneke fifth-graders earned "proficient" scores in writing. "Proficient" is the rating below goal on the five-level scoring scale.

"What I'd say here is that I think we're doing a strong job of allowing students to develop their writing skills on a personal level, but also maintaining attention to what's important in terms of grammar, style and function of language," Falcone said.

"Interestingly enough, I'd say that the good writing scores are also a function of students' good reading habits. Students who are good readers, stronger readers are going to have the proclivity for being stronger writers as well," he said.

Darien's seventh-grade class had the highest percentage of students meeting goal, with 97.3 percent doing so. Seventh-grade reading was Darien's strongest performance overall, according to data from the State.

"This is a testing window in March. It's a snapshot in time, and it gives us information that we can use as administrators and teachers to look at the curriculum and see if we need to make adjustments there, and where we're doing particularly well," Falcone said.

"It's just one way that we assess student progress."