Connecticut ranks near the top of the nation in many indicators considered key to a child's success, and its students' performance on standardized tests is among the highest in the country. But in recent years, state students' test results have fallen more than those in nearly every other state, and low-income students in Connecticut lag further behind their peers than anywhere else in the nation, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study, part of the newspaper Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report, offered a mixed picture of Connecticut, one familiar to educators in a state with some of the wealthiest and poorest families in the nation.
"These data points are not surprises, but the kind of compilation of them is hard-hitting," said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
Overall, Connecticut earned a "C+", slightly higher than the "C" the average state earned.
By the report's standards, Connecticut children still stand a better "chance for success" than those in all but three other states. The report uses 13 indicators to measure students' "chance for success," and Connecticut scored above the national average in all but two categories.
The state ranked third in the nation in the percent of children whose family incomes are at least 200 percent of the poverty level and fourth in preschool enrollment, with 57.1 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled compared with 46.1 percent nationally. Connecticut also ranked fifth-highest in the nation with its public high school graduation rate — 79.8 percent graduated with a diploma in 2004 — and in the percent of adults in the state with a postsecondary degree.
The state fell short of the national average in two categories — kindergarten enrollment and the portion of adults in the labor force working fulltime — but by tenths of a percentage point in each.
Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire topped Connecticut on the "chance for success" index, while the bottom states, in descending order, were Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Other indicators in the report offered a less promising view of the state.
The portion of students achieving proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test was higher than the national average in 2007, but student performance dropped between 2003 and 2007 in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math and reading. Fourth-grade performance on the math portion of the exam increased during that time, but the gain was near the lowest in the nation, behind 45 other states.
The gaps between Connecticut's low-income students and their peers on the fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math exams were the highest in the nation last year, and, over the past five years, had widened more than in nearly any other state, according to the report.
Murphy said the declining test scores and widening achievement gaps were of particular concern, and part of the motivation behind an ongoing effort to redesign high schools with increased standards. "We pride ourselves on the notion that we have an outstanding education system, really top of the charts, and in many ways we still do, but now we're seeing data that refutes that notion, that says, 'Yes, we're good but others are catching up and surpassing us,' " he said. "So we can't rest on our laurels and we need to take steps to address some of these issues."
This year's report also included new standards for states' efforts to improve teaching, designed to focus on areas that research has indicated are important in effective teaching. In that area, too, Connecticut showed mixed results. The state outperformed the national average in accountability measures such as requirements for licensure, evaluating teacher performance, and teacher education programs. But the state fell short in other areas the report identified as key for teachers, such as incentives, professional development, working conditions, and pay on par with their counterparts in comparable occupations.
Teachers in Connecticut earn $0.917 for every dollar earned by people with comparable occupations — defined in the report as requiring comparable skills — including auditors, architects, computer programmers, registered nurses, and reporters. Nationally, teachers earned an average of $.88 for every dollar earned in comparable professions.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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