Audrey Marshall looked through a computerized list of Hartford-area schools and homed in on one thing: Connecticut Mastery Test scores.
Marshall's daughter, Jessica Gordon, is in the process of choosing which high school to attend next year, and the various schools' CMT scores were the barometer that interested Marshall most.
"It didn't matter what the distance" the potential school was from their Hartford home, said Marshall. "I was just looking for a good school."
Marshall was aided in her search by a new computer program created by Trinity College students designed to help Hartford parents sort through the various schools their children can attend.
Had Marshall wanted to know where a school was located, or its racial makeup, the program, called Smart Choices, could tell her that, too. It was developed by a group of Trinity College students in teacher Jack Dougherty's Cities, Suburbs and Schools course, and will be officially launched today at http://smartchoices.trincoll.edu.
The class worked with other Trinity staff and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now to develop the program. It uses Google mapping software and several databases of information to give a description of each school.
"We decided to try to provide the best digital guide we could for what is a confusing set of options for parents," said Dougherty.
Parents will have a number of schools to choose from, including public and magnet schools, as well as out-of-district schools.
To use the computer program, parents type in their address and select whether they want a school within their district or outside. The program brings up a color-coded map with pinpoints representing all the schools that meet their criteria. And a chart appears with information, such as test scores, on the schools. The chart includes links to websites with even more information.
Using the program requires time, but the Trinity students' goal was to lay out the information in one easily accessed site.
"Our thought was that parents who want to find something better for their kids are going to be more invested in looking through this information and finding out what it means," said Trinity student Katie Campbell. "What this project is all about is just getting to a place where you have the clearest set of information all in one place."
The class has worked with community organizers and librarians to help parents use the site. Students have also attended school-choice fairs held by the Hartford schools and the Capitol Region Education Council, which runs magnet schools.
Chris Leone, the director of the Regional School Choice Office for Hartford, said the office would link to the website. "Any time you put everything in one location you are going to simplify things for parents," Leone said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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