Two city initiatives have successfully cut high school dropout rates, boosted test scores and raised college enrollment, according to an analysis by international think tank RAND Corporation. But still, New Haven’s public schools continue to lag behind other districts in the state in all measures of achievement.
The city hired RAND in 2011 to assess the success of New Haven School Change and New Haven Promise, two city initiatives to improve the competitiveness of New Haven Public Schools. Several city officials and board members of both New Haven School Change and New Haven Promise — including Mayor Toni Harp and University President Peter Salovey — gathered at the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School on Tuesday morning to hear RAND present its findings. The study revealed that while the city’s schools have made progress in the five key areas of school learning climate, reading and math test scores, dropout rates, college preparedness and college enrollment rates, the district’s numbers continue to fall below the state’s averages in each of these areas.
“We have a huge amount to be proud of, and we have a huge amount more to work on,” NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said. “The wider community needs to continue to come together and continue to recognize the education of our children as the most important community challenge.”
New Haven School Change, started in 2009, is the collaborative effort of the mayor’s office, Yale, the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven and the city teachers’ union to improve test scores and college preparedness among NHPS students. New Haven Promise, which began in 2010, is an organization that focuses on guiding NHPS students through college and offers $10,000 per year towards college tuition to Promise Scholars — high-performing public school students who choose to attend in-state colleges.
In 2011, RAND gathered baseline data from 2010 and studied the progress of NHPS over time as well as the progress of the city’s schools in comparison with 40 similar districts in Connecticut. On Tuesday, Gabriella Gonzalez, a representative from RAND, presented the study’s results from 2010 to 2013.
While students’ and parents’ ratings of school climate ranged from 3.4 to 4.2 out of five on RAND’s survey, Gonzalez said RAND researchers found that many NHPS parents feel disengaged with their children’s education.
According to Harries, NHPS has introduced more parent-teacher nights to engage parents in their children’s education since RAND’s findings in 2013.
Gonzalez also reported that while New Haven’s Tier III schools — the schools most in need of improvement — saw increases in reading and math scores on standardized tests, the city’s average scores remain below those of the state. She added that between 2010 and 2013, the city’s dropout rate between ninth and 10th grades decreased from 9 to 3 percent.
RAND also assessed students’ college preparedness and Promise Scholarship eligibility as measures of achievement. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must maintain 90 percent attendance and a GPA of over 3.0 throughout high school. Since the implementation of New Haven School Change and New Haven Promise, the percentage of NHPS graduates meeting these requirements rose from 28 to 36 percent, RAND found.
Harries said the city has reflected on the study’s results and set goals for the next five-year period, including increasing the four-year high school graduation rate from 75 to 85 percent and increasing the six-year high school graduation rate to 95 percent. He added that the city hopes to bring about an increase from 36 to 50 percent in the number of NHPS graduates continuing to second-year enrollment in college.
Gonzalez added that it is difficult to pinpoint whether the positive numbers are a result of New Haven School Change or New Haven Promise because the initiatives have been implemented concurrently.
Salovey, who serves New Haven Promise board, cited that enrollment in NHPS has risen by ten percent since the implementation of New Haven School Change and New Haven Promise. Salovey added that RAND’s findings would help New Haven continue to work towards closing the achievement gap between the students in New Haven and those in other Connecticut cities.
“We’re a lot more knowledgeable than we were six years ago,” Salovey said. “But we also needed an independent analysis to answer the question: Are these two ambitious programs achieving their goals?”
Board of Education President Carlos Torre said that the study would provide insight into what the city needs to do next for its public schools.
Harp noted that New Haven has received national recognition for its education reform initiatives.
“Call it potential; call it inherent ability. There is promise built into every child enrolled in New Haven Public Schools,” Harp said.
New Haven Public Schools serves over 21,000 students.