Lowest Achieving Schools, Part 1: What is a Low-Achieving School?

December 5, 2011 • General, Recommendations, Turnaround Schools

What is a low-achieving school and what are the lowest-achieving schools in Connecticut?  It’s a common question that we hear at CCER.  Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer to that seemingly simple question.

The CT State Department of Education currently uses two different metrics to categorize schools by academic performance. Metric #1.  The first metric Connecticut uses comes from a Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provision, and is used to determine if a school or district makes “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). The goal of NCLB is that 100% of students will be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  It’s simple enough to demand that schools improve adequately each year, but establishing an annual standard for what AYP actually is – that’s a little complicated. In Connecticut in 2011, a school has made AYP if approximately 90% of its students and subgroups meet “proficiency” levels in math and reading on standardized assessments administered in grades 3-8 and 10.

If a school does not make AYP for 2+ consecutive years, it is said to be “In Need of Improvement,” and the longer it remains “In Need of Improvement,” it is subject to consequences – such as increased parental rights to transfer students out of the school, or offering tutoring services. Based on 2011 CMT and CAPT scores, 459 schools and 54 school districts failed to make AYP in Connecticut. One hundred and thirty-five of these schools, in thirty-two districts, have been “In Need of Improvement” for 5+ years.

Metric #2.  Connecticut’s State Department of Education (SDE) also uses another metric to determine which schools are “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.” This metric identifies the lowest-achieving 5% of Title I schools, as well as the 5% of secondary schools that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds.  These schools are measured based upon 3-years of proficiency data in Reading and Math on the CMT and CAPT. A flaw in the SDE’s methodology is that it averages three years of proficiency scores rather than measuring year-to-year growth in proficiency.  Flaw in "Persistently Low-Achieving Schools" MetricTherefore, a school that has flat-lined at 25% proficient for 3 years is ranked the same as a school that has increased student achievement from 10% to 25% to 40% proficient in the same three year period.

And we don’t think that’s right. If we are measuring “persistent” low-achievement, we should be distinguishing between schools and districts that are improving and those that are not.

Because CT doesn’t have a growth-model that uses a number of different academic indicators to track district and school improvement or failure over time, it is difficult to identify which schools and districts in CT are consistently the “lowest-achieving” and require additional intervention from the state.  Until CT develops such a growth-model, we’ll continue to use the two metrics above to refer to “low-achieving schools” as schools that are either: (1) “In Need of Improvement” for 5+ years or (2) “Persistently low-achieving.”

For our next post, we’re going to launch into an important discussion about how school turnaround efforts can improve academic achievement in low-achieving schools. Tune in on Wednesday for a discussion about how other states have handled this process and are achieving positive gains in student performance in their lowest-achieving schools!