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New State Rating System: Local Schools Performing At Or Above Target

All of Newtown’s schools, except the high school, ranked measurably higher than the state’s target goal according to the Department of Education’s new School Performance Index (SPI), an accountability system to assess school performance. And Newtown High School is performing just three-tenths of a percent below the target goal of 88 on a 1 to 100 scale, with a three-year average of 87.7.

The searchable database of all Connecticut’s 1,200-plus schools was made available Monday afternoon at 2 pm.

According to the three-year averages compiled in the database, Newtown’s schools have produced the following scores: Newtown Middle School, 95; Reed Intermediate School, 94.3; Head O’ Meadow, 93.4; Sandy Hook, 93; Hawley, 91.6; and Middle Gate, 90.4.

At the same time, Newtown’s high school and middle school were listed among the state’s “Schools of Distinction” for their “Highest Performing Subgroup,” Hispanics. Schools of Distinction have the highest index scores in the state for each one of the five traditionally underperforming subgroups on the CMT and the CAPT:

*Students with disabilities,

*English language learners,

*Black students,

*Hispanic students and,

*Students eligible for free or reduced price lunch

The middle school, Reed, and Middle Gate were also recognized as Schools of Distinction for “Highest Overall Performance.” Schools identified as Highest Overall Performance have SPIs greater than 88 and are performing within the top ten percent of schools across the state. These schools have achievement gaps less than ten SPI points for the majority of their subgroups.

Middle Gate also achieved recognition among the “Highest Progress” schools that have already met the state’s “all students” target of 88 SPI points. That means Middle Gate is among the top ten percent of schools making gains in their respective groups, and have achievement gaps less than ten SPI points for the majority of their subgroups.

Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein reacted to the news, praising school district staff.

“I credit our dedicated teachers and school leaders for their unwavering dedication to our students and their academic success,” Ms Leidlein said. “These numbers prove our schools are all doing well.”

School Superintendent Janet Robinson said the rankings are all good news for the town and district, because they provide a baseline score of overall performance over a period of several years.

“This validates that all our schools are doing well,” Dr Robinson told The Newtown Bee, shortly after the scores were released. She said that while several school received distinction merits, “the others are right up there with them” in terms of their scores.

“All the schools show really good progress; the community should be proud,” Dr Robinson said.

Across the three years measured in the SPI, Newtown High School received an 87.8 in 2009 and 2010 — and an 87.4 in 2011— while Middle Gate scored an 87.4 in 2009, 90.5 in 2010, and 93.3 in 2012.

According to the state education department, the goal of publishing this data is to provide local stakeholders with useful information that assists in understanding more about their schools and in addressing such challenges. Under No Child Left Behind, characterizing and understanding the performance of a given school was difficult.

With the state’s new school accountability system, a school’s SPI — an average of student performance in all tested grades and subjects for a given school — allows for the evaluation of school performance across all tested grades, subjects, and performance levels on CMT/CAPT tests.

As an example, if a school has an SPI of 33, then on average, its students are performing at the “basic” level across all tests they take. If another school has an SPI of 67, then on average its students are performing at the “proficient” level across all tests they take.

At the target score of 88, students in that school will have performed at the “goal” level on the majority of tests they take (e.g., if students in a given school take three tests, on average they will have performed at the “goal” level on two of the three tests and at the “proficient” level on one), according to the state.

Plans to create a unique measurement tool for state schools dates back before February 2012, when the Connecticut State Department of Education participated in a federal application process for flexibility from certain requirements of No Child Left Behind. In May, the US Department of Education approved Connecticut’s flexibility request (or waiver), allowing the state to establish a new accountability system to assess school performance.

The new performance measurement system improves the state’s ability to provide more accurate and appropriate interventions, support, and recognition to local schools.

Connecticut’s new accountability system improves upon the old one in several ways. The new system:

*Recognizes and values improvement in student achievement at all performance levels, unlike the old system, which only recognized movement of students from “not proficient” to “proficient”;

*Raises expectations by setting the target that all students perform at the “goal” level on the majority of tests they take rather than just perform at the “proficient” level, as in the old system;

*Integrates all tested subjects, encouraging schools to improve instruction not only in mathematics and reading (as under No Child Left Behind), but also in science and writing;

*Includes graduation rates as important indicators of high school success;

*Identifies schools with struggling student subgroups, which in the past, may have been less visible to parents and educators;

*And enables schools to be classified into new categories, including Turnaround, Review and Focus, Transitioning, Progressing, and Excelling Schools, that will enable districts and the state to provide tailored support to individual schools.

Dr Robinson said even though the high school is slightly below the 88-point ranking, all Newtown’s schools set goals and targets for added achievement, and there are no specific goals targeting the high school because of its SPI score.

“The whole district looks at the scores as a system,” she said.

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said the new accountability and support framework enables more precise and helpful snapshots of school performance.

“By heralding schools making significant progress, and highlighting schools in need of greater support, the system will also help districts and the state focus our efforts where they are needed most,” he said.

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