Schools across the state have a grade for the first time, a new school performance measurement system called an index.
The state Department of Education launched a new online database Monday that provides School Performance Indexes to measure growth of schools over time and also the graduation rate of high schools.
The index averages student test scores to indicate a school's progress, which the state said is more clear than the No Child Left Behind federal accountability standards. Before, a small sub-group of struggling students could cause a school to be labeled failing.
"The state's new school accountability and support framework enables more precise, more helpful snapshots of school performance," state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said Monday. "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."
Pryor released the new performance index for each school based on a grade of 0-100. The index is calculated for elementary and middle schools by averaging scores on the Connecticut Mastery Tests that third through eighth graders take each year.
At the high school level, the index is reached using the average of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test that tenth graders take annually.
Because of the new system, the state calculated indexes of the last three years and then created a baseline index that will be used going forward to measure a school's progress.
"The intention behind this is to present the schools' achievements in a more understandable way for parents," Kelly Donnelly, the state education department's spokeswoman, said Monday. "It's intended to give a big picture."
The index averages all scores of the students in a school and includes math, reading, science and writing tests.
"It is much more ambitious," Donnelly said. "We want to see achievement at all levels."
The index system also requires schools to move students forward over time toward the state's higher goal score on the CMTs and CAPTs, instead of the lower proficiency standard of the past.
The use of the SPI and graduation rates is part of the state's wider schools' accountability system.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education approved Connecticut's request for No Child Left Behind waiver so they could establish a new accountability system to assess school performance.
"This is a better way of looking at the growth of a school over time," Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarella said Monday. "We are glad the state is looking for students to reach goal, not proficiency. Now, we hope they'll also begin to look at the growth of a student over time as well as a school over time."
Newtown and Ridgefield had the best performances of all Greater Danbury school districts on this new standard, though many schools in the area reached 88.
Ridgefield Superintendent Deborah Low noted that all nine schools in her district met the long-term state goal and no school had a baseline lower than 90.
Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson was pleased with the index scores of her schools, but was not surprised.
Six of seven schools had no score lower than 90, with the high school just short of goal at 87.7.
"This is a whole new way of looking at things. It's more comprehensive that NCLB," Robinson said. "With that system, if you had one group that didn't do well, your whole school didn't do well."
But with the success comes the challenge of maintaining it going forward, Robinson said.
How it works
There are three levels of scores.
A school with a performance index score of 33 means that on average, students are performing at the "basic" level across all tests they take, while a score of 67 means that students in that school are performing at the "proficient" level across all tests they take.
The state's target for schools is 88 SPI points, which means students will have performed at "goal" level on the majority of tests they take.
The state has set expectations for when schools must reach goal, Donnelly said.
For schools with an index above 52, the state expects that schools will move students ahead every year by 1/12 of the distance between their current index and the goal index of 88.
For those whose index is below 50, Donnelly said, the state will require the school to progress by three index points each year.
"That still will be a very ambitious goal for those schools," she said.
The goal is for all public schools in the state to have an index of 88 in 12 years -- 2024.
The SPI and graduation rates are elements of the new school classifications that include Schools of Distinction, Turnaround Schools, Focus Schools, and Review Schools, which the Connecticut State Department of Education announced last week.