State releases revamped grades for every school – and most drop

CTMirror.org

Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell in a kindergarten classroom at an elementary school in Bristol.

The zero-to-100 grade the state gives every public school and district each year declined for the vast majority of public schools and districts, according to data released by the State Department of Education Tuesday.

But the state’s education commissioner said the widespread declines in scores should be seen as part of a recalibration of the grading system. The majority of students scored better on standardized tests.

The state’s grading system is based on more than a dozen different measures, including factors such as test scores and how many students are chronically absent, enroll in arts and Advanced Placement college-prep courses, graduate from high school and enroll in college within a year of graduation. (See below for how your schools’ grade)

While the state already had stopped using student test scores as the lone measure of performance in last year’s school grades, those scores still account for about 80 percent of the ratings for elementary and middle schools.

This year’s zero-to-100 grades for the first time began counting student growth on standardized tests so that the public could see if schools are headed in the right trajectory.

Overall, about 40 percent of an elementary or middle school’s grade is derived by subtracting individual student test scores from the same students’ scores the previous year to measure performance.

During a conference call with reporters, State Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said parents should use this year’s score as a starting point since this is the first time growth is being factored into the equation.

“This is really a baseline year for the use of growth,” she said. “What we see is a great degree of change when we only look at the status measure.. Growth is a game changer.”

Looking just at student growth, almost two out of every three students improved their scores on the state’s math and/or English tests. About 7 percent fewer high-need students showed increased scores. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s English language learners, disabled children and students from low-income families showed growth in their test scores.

Looking at the overall zero-to-100 score, of the 198 school districts to receive a grade for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, 168 saw their overall score drop. Seventy-four districts – one out of every three – saw their scores drop by more than five points. Seven districts, of which six were public charter school districts, saw their scores increase by more than five points.

Of the 1,022 schools, 720 saw their overall score drop. The scores dropped by more than five points at 426 schools, or two-in-five schools. Ninety-four schools saw their scores increase by more than five points.

Brass City Charter School District had the biggest improvement while Franklin Public Schools saw the largest drop.

Most of the state’s worst-performing districts had a drop in their scores, including: Bridgeport (three points), Hartford (one point), New Britain (three points), New London (four points) and Waterbury (two points).

Two low-achieving districts, however, increased their score, including New Haven (two points) and Windham (one point).

The state did not release an updated list of schools that it considers to be among the lowest achieving, so-called “turnaround” or “focus” schools.

Still confused? Find an explanation of the state’s new accountability system here.

About Andrew Ba Tran

Andrew is a data editor at TrendCT.org and the Connecticut Mirror. He teaches data visualization at Central Connecticut State University as well intro to data journalism at Wesleyan University as a Koeppel Fellow. He was a founding producer of The Boston Globe's Data Desk where he used a variety of methods to visualize or tell stories with data. Andrew also was an online producer at The Virginian-Pilot and a staff writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He’s a Metpro Fellow, a Chips Quinn Scholar, and a graduate of the University of Texas.

About Jake Kara

Jake is a former managing editor of The Ridgefield Press, a Hersam Acorn newspaper. He worked for the community newspaper chain as a reporter and editor for five years before joining the Mirror staff. He studied professional writing at Western Connecticut State University and is a graduate student in computer science at Harvard Extension School.

About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other, with Keith Phaneuf, in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.'s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Jacqueline is in the public policy master’s program at Trinity College. E-mail her at jrabe@ctmirror.org.

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