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By The Numbers: A More User-Friendly Look At Schools

Hartford Courant Editorial

December 13, 2012

The state is leaving behind parts of No Child Left Behind.

Connecticut's Department of Education is coming up with better ways than the federal accountability standards for the public to compare schools and hold them to account.

The state is providing parents with a simple way to see how Connecticut's public schools are doing on statewide tests and compare them with their peers. In addition, the Department of Education is meanwhile giving educators more details on where to improve schools.

Connecticut's new system also singles out for distinction schools that have done well on tests with traditionally underperforming groups such as English language learners.

Some educators are ambivalent about the changes, but the new system provides them with more useful information and is more comprehensive than No Child Left Behind.

For parents, it's user-friendly.

The Scorecard

The state is scoring public schools on a 100-point scale and putting the scores online for all to see. They're in one handy, easy-to-use spot at http://www.courant.com/schoolperformance.

Schools that score 88 or above will be tasked with maintaining their high scores. Schools below that number will get incremental targets to reach every year, in the hope that they'll inch up to 88 in a dozen or so years.

The Connecticut scorecard shows averages of student scores on the last three years of Connecticut Mastery Tests (for elementary schools) and Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (for high schools).

It's fascinating to click on several schools and see how they line up. West Harford's Hall High School, with its 88.1 average over the past three years, has only to maintain its excellent record, says the Department of Education, whereas Conard High, on the other side of town, has to go up 0.2 points to get to a score of 86 next year.

The Categories

The state is using the scores and other data to put schools into five categories, from "turnaround" (needing state intervention to keep from failing) to "excelling." In doing so, the state is pinpointing low-performing students within schools who need the greatest attention. This should help schools narrow the state's wide gap in test scores between white students and students of color.

Schools that fall into the "focus" category, for example, may have subgroups, such as black students, doing relatively poorly on tests. Or a school may be sliding in its graduation rate.

As a bonus, Connecticut is also recognizing "schools of distinction" those that have sweated hard and made great progress as a whole over a year, or a school in which a once-struggling group of students (say, those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches) has made great strides in test scores. The hope is that other schools will turn to these exemplary schools and copy their successful practices.

NCLB, in contrast, only tracked the percentage of students in a school deemed "proficient" or "nonproficient." That approach masked undercurrents of success or trouble within subgroups in schools.

Not Everyone Is Sold

The School Performance Index came as no surprise when scores were released Monday: Schools in poor cities scored worse than affluent suburbs.

But the scores ought to motivate all schools to do better and the details that the state is providing will show school districts just what to work on.

There is, of course, grousing from teachers and parents disappointed with their school's rank or jealous of another's. Some administrators are defensive, naturally. Some school boards are wary of yet another innovation and tired of yet more trumpeting of their schools' poor test scores.

But the state has come up with an intriguing idea, a new way of pushing students, parents, educators and communities to improve. Students must be graded. Why not schools? And why not publish their scores for all to see?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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