I am sure this topic will take me multiple entries but I’ll start right in. The saying, “the devil is in the details,” is also appropriate here and all of the details are not yet known. Here’s what I know (or think I know) so far:
Connecticut passed multi-pronged reform legislation that touches just about every aspect of school accountability AND submitted a “waiver” request to the United States Department of Education for relief from the mandates of No Child Left Behind. These two changes are related. Not all of the provisions of the legislation and the waiver request will likely apply to Fairfield, but many will. Much of the waiver request for NCLB (but not all of it) was approved with great fanfare by the Secretary of Education, who actually came to Connecticut to announce the granting of the waiver. (The section not approved — the one that actually makes the most sense — contained the idea that a school should be judged on the growth of its students over time.)
Under the new system, all schools in Connecticut will be rated into one of five categories. The top category is Excelling. The next one is Progressing, then Transition, then Review and then Turnaround. (I guess “Transitioning,” “Reviewing” and “Turning Around” were too lengthy or already taken. English teachers will have a field day with this one.)
The lowest-performing schools in the state, those in Review and Turnaround status, are eligible for the Commissioner’s Network, where the Connecticut Commissioner of Education would have a strong hand in directing change efforts in those schools. The legislation has pages of what this means but this designation will not apply to any Fairfield schools.
Virtually all of the criteria on which a school is slotted into one of these five categories are CMT and CAPT scores. Graduation rates also apply to the high schools. Any other conceivable metric that you or I may find important in rating schools is not on the radar screen. In fact, the entire reform package relies almost exclusively on standardized test scores. If you thought standardized tests were “high stakes” now, then wait until all of this reform legislation kicks in.
Every school, for example, will be given a School Performance Index based on CMT and CAPT scores. We think it goes from 1 to 100 but we’re not really sure. We do know that, as of the latest information, your SPI will need to be greater than 88 to be in the Excelling category. It’s still unclear how you will arrive at your SPI, but it’s a combination of how all students in a given school perform on CMT or CAPT. (I recall something similar was done in 1998. The Hartford Courant then published this figure and ranked the schools. There was an outcry. It never returned.)
So one part of the formula is the SPI. The next part is the percentage of students who attain “Advanced” rating on the CMT and CAPT. CMT and CAPT have five performance categories (Advanced, Goal, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic). So aside from a high SPI you need to have a high percentage of students attain Advanced. It’s not clear how many or on what subjects. (Aside: note how we have 5 rating categories for schools and 5 for CMT performance with no overlap in names.)
The last part of the formula for each school will be the performance of subgroups of students. For example, low-income students, students with disabilities, students who are members of racial minorities will have their performance compared to that of the whole school. If the gap is too large, then your school will not be considered Excelling. They also snuck in a minimum “subgroup size” change in the Waiver — now results will count if a given subgroup has 20 students. Currently, you need 40 in a school to have the subgroup “count.” How this is calculated is still unknown, but the concept is that a school that has high performance for most students, but low performance for its subgroups, will not be categorized as Excelling.
For high schools, two types of graduation rates are in the mix. I am not sure what the differences are between the two.
From the state’s perspective, it would appear that there is little to no distinction between schools in the top three categories. All will have what are termed “district-led” improvement plans. Naturally, this categorization of districts will lead to comparisons between districts in Fairfield County about how many schools each town has in each category.
Anyway, that’s just the beginning of it. This new way of categorizing schools should be rolled out this summer, once the data from the 2012 CMT and CAPT results are in.