Since 2006, ConnCAN has issued School Report Cards that assign letter grades to every Connecticut public school based on student achievement. We publish these Report Cards to help Connecticut families access information about local schools. ConnCAN’s Report Cards, along with our Success Story Schools and Top 10 lists, highlight schools that are providing students with a high-quality education regardless of race, wealth, or ZIP code.
This year’s School Report Cards provide letter grades for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. Our grades are based on the Connecticut State Department of Education’s (CSDE) new performance accountability system, the School Performance Index (SPI). The following narrative provides more details about how we developed our School Report Cards grading scale.
ConnCAN uses performance data from CSDE’s new measure for performance, the School Performance Index (SPI). Since 2012, Connecticut has released an SPI for each school. The SPI is a score numbered from 0 to 100 that represents student performance across all tested grades and subjects within a school. ConnCAN uses a school’s SPI, along with enrollment data from Connecticut’s State Department of Education (CSDE), to grade every public school in Connecticut.
The School Performance Index (SPI) is a number from 0-100 that explains how well students are performing on one of two standardized tests: The Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), administered to students in grades 3 through 8, or the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), taken in 10th grade. These exams measure performance in four subject areas: reading, math, writing and science (though performance in science is measured only in grades 5, 8, and 10). In most cases, schools have one SPI, based on either CMT or CAPT scores. For schools with students in both lower and upper grades, which must therefore administer both tests, the state reports separate SPIs for CMT and CAPT.
The state calculates that SPI for a given school by averaging all of the scores received by students at the school for a given year in all tested grades and subjects. Students receive 100 points for reaching the “Goal” or “Advanced” benchmarks on either of these tests, 67 points for reaching “Proficient,” 33 points for reaching “Basic,” and zero points for reaching “Below Basic.” To protect student identities, the state only reports a score for a group of more than 20 students.
According to the CSDE, a composite score of 88 reflects adequate mastery of material since students must meet “Goal” in two subject areas and proficient on the third area to reach such a score (as (100 + 100 + 67) / 3 = 89). Because of this, CSDE has set the goal for all schools at an SPI of 88 as an “ultimate target” to attain by 2024.
Performance Indicators Graded for All Schools
ConnCAN uses the School Performance Index (SPI) to assign a letter grade for each public school. We also assign a letter grade to the overall improvement in a school’s SPI from one year to the next. Figure 1 lists the SPIs reported and explains our grading scales.
In addition to reporting a school’s overall performance, we provide grades for each academic subject assessed on state tests: math, reading, writing, and science. Science is only currently tested in grades 5, 8, and 10, while all other subjects are tested in grades 3 through 8, and 10th grade.
We also grade performance for specific groups of students at each school, including African American, Hispanic, and low-income students. ConnCAN uses the state definition of low-income, which is students who receive free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). In addition, for the first time, ConnCAN’s Report Cards includes data for English Language Learners (ELLs).
School Performance Index (SPI) Grading Scale
ConnCAN assigns each school one of five grades: A, B, C, D, or F. This grading is different from previous years because we do not include “plus” and “minus” letter grades (for example, A- or B+), since use of the SPI measure resulted in fewer distinctive categories.
The state reports 963 overall SPIs for schools in 2013, ranging from 18.5 to 97.3. More than 90 percent of the overall SPIs reported in 2013 were 50 or higher. The average overall SPI was 78.3 at the elementary/middle school level and 73.4 at the high school level.
We determined specific cutoffs for grade ranges based on an analysis of the distribution of 2013 overall SPIs and the following state designated performance benchmarks:
- A (88-100): An SPI that is at or exceeds the state goal. An SPI of 88 indicates that, on average, all students score at/above “goal” or “grade level” on the CMT/CAPT.
- B (79-87.9): An SPI that is above the state averages, but below the state goal. On average, students score above “proficient” but below “goal.”
- C (67-78.9): An SPI that is near the state average SPI. An SPI of 67 indicates that, on average, all students score at/above “proficient.”
- D (50.1-66.9): An SPI that is below the state average and significantly below the state goal. On average, students score below “proficient.”
- F (50 or below): An SPI that is significantly below the state average. On average, students score between “proficient” and “basic.”
SPI Improvement Grading Scale
Schools are assigned an “improvement grade” even if they did not improve year over year. Any school for which there is sufficient data to calculate a change in overall SPI from the previous year earned lower than an overall grade of “A” is assigned an “improvement” grade, even if their scores did not actually improve. However, schools that saw any decrease in overall SPI from the previous year cannot earn higher than a “C.” We calculated this grade by subtracting the previous school year’s SPI from the current year’s SPI. Schools with an overall Grade of “A” are not graded on improvement because they have an overall SPI of 88 or higher, which is the state-designated target for all schools to reach by 2024.
The state sets individual performance targets for schools based on how much they need to improve to get to an SPI of 88 by 2024, and the state caps the maximum target improvement at 3 SPI points in one year, based on historical data trends. In 2012-2013 we assigned 667 schools “improvement grades” based on overall SPIs (meaning there was sufficient data to calculate a change in overall SPI from the previous year). Over 60 percent of the changes in overall SPI for these schools from the previous school year fell within a 3-point range (between a 3-point decrease and a 3-point increase). The average change in SPI for all schools with sufficient data was a decrease of 0.9 points.
We determined cutoffs for improvement grade ranges based on an analysis of the distribution of overall SPI changes for 2012-2013 and the state designated performance benchmark. The grade ranges are:
- A (+3 or more): Meets or exceeds state-designated improvement cap
- B (+1 to +2.9): Improves but does not meet improvement cap
- C (+0.9 to -0.9): Remains unchanged or nearly unchanged
- D (-1 to -2.9): Decreases by more than state average rate of change for 2012-2013
- F (-3 or more): Significant decrease in score (bottom 30 percent of graded schools in 2012-2013)
Success Story Schools
Success Story Schools are providing a high-quality education for students regardless of race, wealth, or zip code. In order to qualify for the Success Story Schools list, a school must meet certain enrollment and performance requirements. All Success Story Schools must meet the following three criteria:
- Performance: At least one of the following student groups performs at or above the state average overall SPI: low-income, African American, Hispanic, or English Language Learner; (overall SPI averages are 78.3 for CMT; 73.4 for CAPT in 2012-2013)
- Enrollment: Both low-income and minority enrollments are above the state average; (enrollment averages are 37.96 percent for FRPL; 40.93 percent for minority in 2012-2013)
- Consistency: Minimum grade of “C” for overall, low-income, African American, and Hispanic SPIs
Success Story schools must have an SPI at or above the state average overall SPI for at least one of the following student groups: African American, Hispanic, low-income, or ELL, to qualify for Success Story School Lists. In 2012-2013, the statewide averages for overall SPI are 78.3 for CMT and 73.4 for CAPT. This measure is similar to the measure we used in our previous Report Cards and helps ensure that Success Story schools’ performance is high-quality for students regardless of race, wealth, or zip code.
Success Story schools must enroll both minority and low-income students at a rate that is higher than the state average. In 2012-2013, the state averages were 37.96 percent for low-income and 40.93 percent for minority students. We use this enrollment measure because it separates student race/ethnicity and income indicators and, in doing so, is a stricter measure than our previous Report Cards enrollment requirements. This enrollment requirement helps ensure that Success Story Schools are those that enroll a sizeable population of traditionally underserved students.
Success Story schools must earn at least a “C” grade for overall, low-income, African American, and Hispanic student performance. A “C” grade means that, on average, students are performing at or above “proficient” on the CMT/CAPT because that designation requires an SPI of 67 or above. This measure is new for this year’s Report Cards and helps ensure that Success Story Schools’ student performance is high-quality for all enrolled students within that school.
Note: Many Connecticut schools do not enroll a significant enough number of ELL students for the state to report performance, and overall statewide ELL student performance is significantly lower than that of other student groups considered for Success Story lists. Therefore, this year, we chose not to disqualify schools from the Success Story school list if English Language Learner (ELL) performance is below a “C” (see above). The schools on the Success Story schools list for English Language Learners are the highest performing public schools in the state for those students. In the future, we hope to raise the standards to higher than a “C.” The current low performance of ELL students merits significant attention from educators and policymakers, particularly in light of increases in ELL enrollment over the past several years.
Top 10 Lists
In order to be on our Top 10 lists, a school must be one of the top 10 performing public schools in Connecticut within a designated category, in addition to meeting certain enrollment and minimum performance requirements. We rank the top overall schools, the schools with the greatest improvement, and the schools with the best outcomes for: African Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and English Language Learners.
With the exception of the Improvement category, SPIs for only the current year are used. For each category, there are two separate lists: elementary/middle schools and high schools. This is because the state reports SPIs based on either CMT data (grades 3 through 8) or CAPT data (grade 10) for all of the students in a school, regardless of grade level. For schools with both elementary/middle and high school grades, their rankings may appear on either or both Top 10 lists.
Any school on a Top 10 list must receive a grade of at least a “C” within a specific category. For example, to be on an African American Top 10 school list, a school must have a grade of “C” or above for African American student performance. A “C” grade means that, on average, all students are performing at or above “proficient” on the CMT/CAPT because it requires an SPI of 67 or above. This measure is new for Report Cards this year and helps ensure that schools meet a minimum performance standard to be recognized and included on a Top 10 list. As a result of this new requirement, some lists have less than 10 schools as there are fewer than 10 schools in the state who met all performance and enrollment standards.
To generate the Overall Top 10 list, we split the overall SPIs in the state into two separate lists (elementary/middle and high school) and ranked them in descending order.
For the Improvement Top 10 list, we calculated the difference between each school’s overall SPI in the current school and the previous school year, and then created ranked lists based on the same procedure described above.
Top 10 Lists for Student Groups
Top 10 lists for African American, Hispanic, low-income, and English Language Learner (ELL) performance follow the same requirements described above, but must also meet an additional enrollment criterion. Only schools with specific student group enrollment that is greater than or equal to the statewide average are considered for the Top 10 list for that group. The statewide average enrollment is the average percentage of students from that group in all schools with a reported overall SPI in the current school year. The statewide averages for 2012-2013 were as follows: African American (15.94 percent), Hispanic (20.56 percent), low-income (37.96 percent), and ELL (7.18 percent).
To generate these Top 10 lists, schools that fit the enrollment requirement were separated by tested grade (CMT or CAPT); then, we ranked the appropriate student group SPI in descending order. For example, for the Low-Income Top 10 lists, we created a separate list of schools with a low-income enrollment greater than 37.96 percent. We then separated that list by test (CMT or CAPT), and low-income SPIs for each school were listed in decending order to determine rankings. This additional enrollment-based requirement is new for Report Cards this year. The requirement helps to ensure that the schools in our Top 10 lists are providing a high-quality education to an above average proportion of the students in the group for which they are ranked.
Note: This is the first year that ConnCAN has issued Top 10 lists for English Language Learner (ELL) performance. Unfortunately, ELL student performance at many schools across the state is significantly lower than the school’s overall student performance. As such, the ELL Top 10 list for elementary/middle schools has only seven schools because no other schools in the state met the criteria for our Top 10 list. In addition, we did not issue an ELL Top 10 list for high schools because no high schools in the state met all three of these standards.
ConnCAN uses CSDE enrollment data in addition to SPIs to determine which schools qualify for our Success Story and Top 10 lists. CSDE publicly reports enrollment data by racial/ethnic groups and student-need groups in a school as long as there are more than five students in that group within a school (performance data is only reported for student groups larger than 20 students). The CSDE reports data this way in order to protect the identity of individual students.
Minority enrollment, which is used in determining our Success Story school list, is calculated for each school by subtracting the number of White students from the total number of students and dividing this number by the total number of students in the school [Minority enrollment = (Total enrollment - White Enrollment) / Total Enrollment].
However, the state does not track enrollment for student groups if there are five or fewer students in any specific group. However, if there are zero students, this is reported as such. In lieu of an enrollment figure, the state uses an asterisk when there are between one and five students in that group (and a “0” when there are none). Therefore, our formula for calculating minority enrollment cannot be used at any school with between one and five White students. To solve that problem, in schools assigned an asterisk we assume there are five White students, changing that asterisk to the number “5.” This way, none of these schools were incorrectly disqualified from Success Story school lists. This change was made for 18 schools with overall SPIs in the 2012-2013 data. The percentage of average minority enrollment, used to determine whether or not schools qualify for Success Story school lists, was calculated after making the above assumption.
For ease of use and to maintain consistency, this document uses the term “Hispanic” to refer to individuals who identify as either Hispanic or Latino.
Looking Forward and Acknowledgements
ConnCAN’s Report Cards are designed to create transparency and awareness about how our public schools perform, and to highlight schools that are providing a high-quality education to Connecticut's children regardless of race, wealth, or zip code. As Connecticut transitions to the Common Core State Standards and corresponding Smarter Balanced assessments in the 2014-2015 school year, we plan to adjust our methodology accordingly as data becomes available.
ConnCAN would like to acknowledge and thank the Education Trust in Washington, D.C. for reviewing this methodology, and to Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) fellow Andrew McClintock for providing data analysis support. ConnCAN would also like to thank Sulzer, Inc. and Daniel C. Wiggins Design for lending their respective web and graphic design talents to this project, as well as web host Liberty Concepts.