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State To Release 'Performance Index' For Every School This Week

Part of State's New Accountability System; Largely Based on Standardized Tests


December 05, 2012

For the first time, Connecticut parents soon will have a single numerical rating for their child's school to help them assess how it's doing and how it compares with 1,200 other schools in the state.

The individual school performance index which should be available online by the end of the week is part of a new state accountability program that will place every school in one of five tiers from the lowest-performing schools to the highest.

"It really allows us to say, on balance, here are the schools that are performing poorly and here are the schools that are performing really well," said Mark Day, director of performance management and strategic planning for the state Department of Education. "Where do we want to focus our energy and resources to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of students?"

Although some might see the index as a report card, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said that it's "user-friendly data that will enable parents and educators to access information regarding schools."

The new system replaces the No Child Left Behind system linked to the percentage of students who scored at the proficient level on the Connecticut Mastery Test or the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

When Connecticut was granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind, a condition was that it design its own accountability system. Connecticut's assessment tool also relies on standardized test scores, but Day called it more "holistic" because it takes into account progress and improvement on the tests, rather than just the proficiency scores.

Nathan Quesnel, superintendent in East Hartford, where five schools are among the state's lowest-performing, called the new system "very helpful. It's prioritizing for us."

Quesnel said it's also positive that the state has used the rankings to determine where help is needed the most. "It's not about, 'Hey, go do this,'" Quesnel said. "It's very much about working with the school to set a plan."

Of particular assistance, Quesnel said, is a category in the new system that highlights pockets of students including black, Hispanic, or low-income students who are performing at lower levels than students in the same racial, ethnic or economic groups throughout the state.

The system is being introduced in phases, with the state's release late last week of the list of lowest-performing schools, as well as a list of some of the highest performers.

The index is on a scale of 0 to 100. The state hopes to see all schools eventually score at 88 a rating that indicates that most of the students scored at or above what has been called the "goal level" on the state's standardized test. A school performance index of 67 indicates that most students scored at about the "proficient level" on the tests.

These index numbers are used to help place schools in one of the five tiered categories. Ranging from best to worst, the categories are: excelling, progressing, transitioning, review and focus, and lastly, turnaround schools.

The categories are based largely on students' performance on standardized tests, with graduation rates taken into account for high schools. The exception is the "turnaround" tier. Most of the 28 schools placed in this category were selected because they have received a federal school improvement grant to help address performance problems.

"No school is a 'failing' school, no school is without hope," Pryor said. "Instead, the lowest-performing category is 'turnaround.' The point is that the districts are preparing plans to ensure that these schools experience an upward trajectory and the state is serving as a new partner in these efforts."

Placement into one of the upper tiers excelling, progressing and transitioning won't be done until the spring, although each school's index number will be known. Day said the state released the lists of the lower-performing schools earlier because "they needed to very immediately begin planning and implementing interventions."

Pryor said the new accountability system "both identifies schools with the greatest need" and schools and districts with "exemplary practices."

Just above the lowest-rated schools are those in the "review and focus" tier, which has two subgroups within it. The schools on the "review" side of the tier have a three-year school performance index that falls below 64 and a graduation rate below 60 percent. Schools in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury figure prominently on the list.

Also included with the "review and focus" tier is another list of schools called "focus" schools. These are schools where certain "sub-groups" of students including black, Hispanic and low-income students are performing worse than the same racial, ethnic or economic groups throughout the state. The focus schools are expected to make changes to address this problem during the current school year.

Diana Roberge-Wentzell, an assistant superintendent in Hartford, said that the "focus" group category is helpful because it can "uncover a challenge we didn't know we had." Hartford has a number of schools on the turnaround, review and focus lists.

She said the new accountability system is "very helpful and very much in alignment with reform in Hartford." She said the city has a similar system of indexing schools "to understand the relative performance of our schools and the improvement."

"For us, we've been looking at our schools this way for a long time," said Roberge-Wentzell. "We were really very aware. I don't think there were any surprises."

Quesnel said his district is already making plans to help alleviate problems at four "focus schools." For instance he said, at Silver Lane School, where black students are the group that is performing at a low level, plans are underway to bring in "instructional coaching" and "diversity training."

In Meriden, Superintendent Mark Benigni said the new accountability system will help the district decide how to "allocate our resources, both financially and our human resources."

But Benigni said the accountability system is just "one measure of a school's success." He said he also considers other barometers, including a "culture and climate survey" and discipline data.

Also released late last week is the department's list of "schools of distinction," separate from the five-tiered index.

Hartford has two schools on the "schools of distinction" list, which is meant to acknowledge areas of high performance and progress. This list has three categories: schools where certain groups such as black, Hispanic or low-income students have excelled; schools where the greatest progress has been made from one year to the next; and schools with the highest overall performance.

To make the distinction list of highest overall performance, schools needed not only high standardized test scores, but also to meet several other criteria, including having a narrow achievement gap.

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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