ConnCAN report cards scrutinized

As public schools in the Elm City open their doors to students for the new school year, a report released by ConnCAN raises questions about the quality of education in New Haven’s public schools.

This year’s report used data from 2012 and 2013 CMT and CAPT test scores — standardized performance tests administered by the state of Connecticut. The report cards demonstrated a disparity in performance levels among New Haven Public Schools. While a handful of schools were given passing grades or deemed “success stories,” 10 schools received failing grades.

“My take on this is that I don’t feel like the ConnCAN report adds significantly to the conversation here in New Haven,” said Garth Harries ’95, superintendant of New Haven Public Schools. “There is no question that we are not close to, in many of our schools, a place where our students are performing at the levels that we want them to.”

Harries stressed the need for use of multiple measures of performance to accurately evaluate each school. He pointed to the organization’s methodology in evaluating each school, stating that the reports use data from a test no longer administered in New Haven and do not provide insight into how the schools’ performances have been changing over the recent years.

While the report largely compares test scores, it brings more parents and community members into the dialogue about quality of education, said Yamuna Menon, ConnCAN’s director of research and policy.

Yale’s Director of Public Schools and Partnerships, Claudia Merson also called into question the value of comparing standardized test scores.

“[The report card] looks at one variable and it’s a much more complicated issue,” Merson said, adding that ConnCAN has been a great “watchdog” for the public schools, but its report card fails to take into consideration the demographics of both high and low scoring schools.

The last time ConnCAN released report cards was in 2011, Menon said, attributing the three-year gap between report cards to a delay in the availability of state-level data.

The goal of the report was to influence policymakers’ decisions with regards to education on a district and state level, she said.

“Initially this project was designed to provide transparency and access to this information, namely the school performance index that we do,” Menon said. “We hope that this project will be used by parents, community leaders, district leaders and other key policy makers to push for change.”

In an effort to improve student performance, New Haven Public Schools have been switching to the Common Core standards, said Abbe Smith, New Haven Public Schools director of communications. This year, the district will particularly focus on two schools, Lincoln-Bassett School and James Hillhouse High School, she said.

This year Lincoln-Bassett will participate in the state Commissioner’s Network, a state network for schools undergoing transformation. Eventually, Lincoln-Bassett will become an extended day community school to provide afterschool programs and family engagement, Smith said.

Hillhouse High School will launch two new academies, a public safety and law academy and the IDEA Academy, which focuses on innovation and entrepreneurialism, Smith said.

While the report highlights an important issue within Connecticut’s schools, it also raises the question of raising parents’ awareness about school performance, said Linda Francis, a parent organizer for Families for Excellent Schools in Bridgeport.

“It takes a village to raise a child and a community to sustain it,” Francis said. “Parents are not really being involved and not holding local boards accountable.”

ConnCAN graded 944 public schools in the state, giving 63 schools failing grades.

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