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State Data Show Performance Gap

Students At Regional Magnet, Open Choice Schools Do Better Than Peers At Neighborhood Schools

De La Torre, Vanessa

September 13, 2013

New state data from this year's mastery tests show that Hartford residents who attend regional magnet schools and Open Choice suburban schools outperformed city students enrolled in Hartford neighborhood schools.

While only a snapshot, the 2013 results indicate an apparent performance gap between Hartford students in Sheff-created programs and those who are not.

Plaintiffs in the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case sought the data to support their argument that "the money being spent for Sheff is not only reaching integration goals, but it's also a major contributor to closing the achievement gap," said Martha Stone, one of their attorneys.

Citing scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test, Stone asserted Thursday that there is a "stark contrast" in achievement that favors students who attend regional magnet schools and Open Choice, the program that enables Hartford students to be bused to the suburbs for their education.

The state Department of Education's breakdown of Hartford student test scores was recently released to Sheff parties under a court-ordered agreement.

"We're in the process of looking at these and other data in a variety of additional ways that have the potential to shed further light on results in the Sheff region and beyond," Kelly Donnelly, the education department's spokeswoman, said in an email Thursday night.

Hartford schools spokesman David Medina released a statement from the city school system earlier Thursday noting that the Sheff case is "about providing access to quality seats for Hartford students," and yet "the reality is that relatively few Hartford resident students are being served in Sheff-funded programs ...

"What we have instead are state-of-the-art facilities and well-designed themed schools that are providing great options and opportunities for suburban families," the statement continued. "In fact, more suburban students attend Sheff magnets than Hartford students. We believe these educational opportunities and resources should be open to more Hartford students."

In Hartford's own magnet schools, Medina said, suburban students outnumber Hartford resident students 4,308 to 3,843. At board of education meetings, Hartford parents have complained to school officials about their children being shut out of lottery seats for magnet schools, including those located in their neighborhoods.

Overall, about 8,278 non-Hartford residents attended Sheff magnet schools in Oct. 2012, according to the state. An estimated 5,455 Hartford residents attended regional magnet schools, while 1,626 city students participated in Open Choice.

A one-year Sheff extension signed this spring requires the state to report on the performance of Hartford students in city schools, regional magnet schools that include those managed by the Capitol Region Education Council, and Open Choice.

The state has until June 30, 2014, to meet terms outlined in a 2008 Sheff settlement, such as the goal for 41 percent of Hartford's minority students to be enrolled in integrated schools. The state reached almost 37 percent by October 2012.

Failing that, the state could satisfy the Sheff terms if 80 percent of Hartford students attend a school of their choice, a calculation that considers magnet school applications.

The state, which met 72 percent of demand last year, established four new magnet schools and expanded seats at other Sheff magnets for 2013-14.

Parties to the Sheff agreement, which include the Hartford school system, are negotiating a new pact in the long-running case that began in 1989 when a group of parents filed the lawsuit on behalf of their children.

The state Supreme Court's landmark desegregation decision came in 1996.

The state has already spent "billions of dollars" on Sheff, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Urban said when the extension was approved earlier this year.

"Scores of new schools and programs have opened, all of which provide greater opportunities for both suburban and urban students in the Hartford region," Urban said.

Stone, executive director of the Center for Children's Advocacy, disputed the Hartford school system's assertion that "relatively few" city students are enrolled in Sheff programs. "It's thousands," Stone said, adding that "there should be more robust opportunities for Hartford students ... I wish suburban districts would open more seats for Open Choice."

In the 2013 data, there was a lone exception to the across-the-board performance disparity between Hartford neighborhood students and those in Sheff programs: Third-grade writing, where the percentage of city children reaching the writing goal was the same for those attending regular, non-magnet Hartford schools as those in Open Choice.

But among 10th-graders, the gap was especially wide.

About 5 percent of Hartford sophomores in neighborhood schools met the CAPT math "goal," compared to 20 percent of city 10th-graders in Open Choice, 26 percent of city students in Hartford magnet schools and 31 percent of Hartford students attending CREC magnet schools -- all still far below the 53 percent statewide average.

For Hartford fifth-graders who attend CREC magnet schools, however, the percentage of them meeting the state's "proficiency" level exceeded state averages in all subjects of the 2013 mastery test.

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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