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Archive for July, 2008

Deadline Day for Referendum Redux (Petition for Second Referendum Certified)

Posted by whforums on July 31, 2008

It’s July 31st — which, normally, would mean dog days of summer. The Town Council and Board of Ed are both mere shapes in the haze, the dog is getting shorter walks and, if I don’t take the trash out more often, it stinks.

But this July 31st is different — today is the deadline for the WHTA to collect enough signatures to force a second referendum on the budget. I haven’t heard or seen any scuttlebutt, so I suppose it would be irresponsible of me to speculate on the potential success or failure of the petition drive. UPDATE: According to a commenter, the referendum petition was certified on July 27th and the referendum is a go. Judy Aron, VP of the WHTA, has confirmed that there are indeed enough signatures for a second referendum.

So, instead, Assuming another referendum, I’m going to turn this space over to you. I’ve got three questions for everyone to answer which may begin to re-delineate the sides of the argument. Feel free to add questions and I’ll add them to the post.

Residents of West Hartford, tell us:

1.) Did you sign a petition for a second budget referendum? Why or why not?

2.) What do you think would be will be the outcome of a second referendum?

3.) Have you already made up your mind about how you’d will cast your vote on a second referendum, or can you still be persuaded?

My answers, and the answers of others across town, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Budget, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 34 Comments »

Watch Your Block, West Hartford

Posted by whforums on July 29, 2008

The recent spike in burglaries in West Hartford has caused some alarm around town (and in its internets). First, there was the report of 35 apartment complex burglaries. Then there were the reports of the 14 house burglaries on Loomis Drive alone. Back on July 11, the Courant reported 18 house burglaries in a 40 day period, mostly on Loomis Drive, Flagg Road and in the “Eastern” part of town.

As reported yesterday by Rachel Gottlieb on the Courant’s Greater Hartford Blog, James Strillacci, our chief of police, has written an open letter to the community of West Hartford (the letter is at the bottom of her post – and I’m imagining it’ll be in your mailbox soon). Only a few weeks ago, the Courant quoted a West Hartford officer who said that, as crime goes, “there’s a little bit of a spree right now,” but the purpose of Strillacci’s letter is not to directly address, or comment on, that “spree.” Rather, the purpose of the letter is to tell citizens of West Hartford what they can do to protect themselves and their neighbors.

I have a lot of respect for Chief Strillacci and the WHPD – of all the places I’ve lived, West Hartford police have been, in my experience, by far the most responsive and reliable police force. They’re good enough to be taken for granted, and that’s pretty high praise.

At the same time, although the letter Strillacci has written positions itself as a response to a growing paranoia (“a few emails being sent to neighbors”), and while the letter takes great care to argue that West Hartford has been experiencing burglaries, not robberies (in other words, no violence involved), the fact that the WHPD is actively calling for the formation of Block Watches seems to at least minimally justify resident paranoia. I’m sure every police department across the US would love to have communities full of block watches, but we can’t ignore the fact that West Hartford has made a public appeal for block watches at a time when burglaries are on the up.

It seems reasonable to assume that these numbers will go back down – WHPD will get the job done (as they always have before) and then, as Tracy Kidder once wrote, it’ll get “too cold for crime.” But after reading this letter, I can’t escape the echoey question it implies – if I should spend more time watching my block, I should also be more worried, right?

Posted in Crime, West Hartford, WHPD | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

West Hartford Blog Roundup, Weekend of 7/26

Posted by whforums on July 28, 2008

A pretty interesting weekend in our local “blogosphere.” While I was busy kicking myself for totally missing out on a USGA event in town, here’s what was going on across our other local blogs:

Talk of West Hartford analyzed the relationship between Hartford county test scores and per pupil expenditures, arguing that there is at best a limited relationship between the amount spent per student and the overall quality of a district.

Over at FatMixx, Sujal has an absolutely fantastic post that summarizes the cross-blog conversations about test scores while also adding critical new insight. I wish I could write with such clarity and objectivity — his post is an absolute must read for those interested in the issue of West Hartford test scores and also serves as a great starting point for those looking to enter the conversation.

In an attempt to keep record of the ongoing test score conversation, I updated the CAPT/CMT roundup post (it should contain links to all posts about West Hartford CMT/CAPT scores — if I’m missing something, please email me).

Finally, over at WH Dad’s site, a couple of students have eulogized the friends they lost at Sedgewick this spring (scroll to the bottom of the page for the most recent comments). I really debated whether to link to that post, because the comments that have emerged over the last week are simultaneously public and private. In the end, I decided to link — in part because it’s an important town issue, that, though difficult, needs to be faced. But I also decided to link in part because of how I felt when reading what the students had to say. Human beings have such a remarkable capacity not just for feeling, but for deeply held emotion wed to self-reflection. Say what you will about “people in general” (we’re all walking disasters) but our mutual beauty is sometimes fierce enough to make me start.

Posted in CAPT Scores, CMT Results, Test Scores, Uncategorized, West Hartford | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Uh … There’s a USGA Event in Town?

Posted by whforums on July 26, 2008

Huh.

One more thing to do this weekend … or today. The women’s under 18 Championship golf tournament is in West Hartford today (Saturday). I guess it’s been here all week.

Might still be time to stroll the fairways, if you want to see some high level golf.

I guess this would explain why all those golf stories (that I kept ignoring) were showing up in my feed all week …

Posted in West Hartford | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

To Do in West Hartford, Weekend of 7/26

Posted by whforums on July 25, 2008

What the Cool Kids Are Doing

The cool kids are going to go catch Hamlet (Friday/Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 5:30). Sunday is the last performance, so get your butt over to Saint Joseph College already. (Had to run this pic again — I can’t decide if Hamlet is mad at the world or displaying the faux-rage of a death metal rock star).

What the Green Kids Are Doing

They’re recycling their electronics and small metals at 17 Brixton Street on Saturday, between 9 and 12. Bring your electronics and any metal objects you might ordinarily throw away (like pots and pans) and keep your planet karma going strong. Hard drives are wiped to “Department of Defense Standards,” but if I were you, I’d do what we used to do when I worked in IT and we had to zero out a hard drive — we hit it repeatedly with a mallet. Then we took it to the recycling center.

What the Charitable Kids Are Doing

If you’ve got 5 bucks, why not drop it at West Hartford Yoga’s “All Levels Community Yoga” class? Not only do you get the physical benefits of yoga, but your $5 does its own small part in making a difference in this small, shared world. Sunday from 3-4 at West Hartford Yoga, 32 Jansen Court.

What the Shoppers Are Doing

The shoppers will be out at the “Giant Tag Sale” at Congregation Agudas Achim, 1244 North Main Street, on Sunday from 9 to 2. A good way to quench your desire to spend while helping your neighbor (and maybe even your wallet).

photo credit

Posted in Things to Do, West Hartford | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

One More CAPT Post – Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility and Hartford County Test Scores

Posted by whforums on July 25, 2008

Ok. So, in general, I’m a pretty open-minded person. And to be honest, I didn’t expect arguments of such conviction surrounding the last set of numbers I ran (where I argued that part of West Hartford’s struggle in its peer DRG group was rooted in a much higher Free/Reduced Lunch ratio). So it got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? I’ve read several articles about the impact of poverty on school success, and I’ve talked to teachers who have told me about the impact of poverty on school success. But what did I have to go on besides those things – especially when it came to making claims about West Hartford and its DRG?

So, here’s what I did. I took all of the towns in Hartford county (minus Marlborough and Burlington, which share high schools with towns from other counties – and also minus Hartland, who I couldn’t find CAPT numbers for) and found their Free/Reduced Lunch eligibility rate for 06-07 (the most recent numbers available). I then found their 2008 CAPT average at “Goal” (the average percentage of students who met the high achievement rate of “Goal” across the four sections of the exam).

That allowed me to produce the chart below. I color coded it as a stoplight:

Red: More than 20% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.
Yellow: Between 10 and 20% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.
Green: Fewer than 10% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.

The Findings?

As far as the 2008 CAPT Exam in Hartford County goes, there is a definite correlation between percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch and percentage of students reaching “Goal” on CAPT.

Several things:

1. In this extremely limited sample, there is a correlation between poverty and test scores that at the very least implies that the consequences of poverty conspired to have a negative impact on standardized testing in Hartford County in 2008. This should not be misunderstood as the statement “the poor can’t learn.” It should be understood to imply the broader argument that, generally speaking, students in poverty face specific social and psychological consequences that may create an uneven educational terrain. Initiatives like Project Choice may temper some of the interpersonal consequences of poverty and may have a positive impact on test scores, but I have no data to defend or challenge that assertion, nor is an examination of that assertion the purpose of this post.

2. Not a single “red” district outperformed a “Green” district, though Bristol came close. (I know I write about Bristol a lot. I don’t know why).

3. West Hartford outperformed every other “Yellow” district and 3 “Green” districts. Also of note: West Hartford finished within 4 CAPT percentage points of Glastonbury, despite a 9% higher rate of Free/Reduced eligibility. If you go in the opposite direction, Enfield, which had a 9% higher rate of Free/Reduced eligibility than West Hartford, finished 26% lower on the CAPT.

4. I’m extremely interested in two pieces of data, if anyone has them:

a. How does poverty spread itself across West Hartford’s elementary schools, and how does it reflect itself in elementary CMT scores?

b. How do West Hartford students eligible for Free/Reduced lunch perform against students eligible for Free/Reduced lunch in other districts?

5. As I think should be obvious, taken as individuals, “rich kids” will door poorly and “poor kids” will do well – in school and on this exam. My argument is strictly about probability and how that probability plays out in the gross generality of a district’s test scores.

Please Understand That I’m Not Arguing That:

1. Free/Reduced lunch eligibility is anything more than one indicator of a district’s potential success.

2. I am not arguing that there is a direct relationship between Free/Reduced lunch eligibility and the overall quality of a district. To judge this one indicator, someone good at math would need to look at the rate of Free/Reduced lunch and compare it to the overall score. This might begin to separate over and underperforming districts. However, it seems self-evident to me from the color coding that, according to this one indicator, West Hartford is overperforming.

Admitted Limitations

1. I know very little about statistics. All I did was take the average of the 4 “Goal” scores on the 2008 CAPT to produce an average “Goal” score for each district. I welcome any revisions to these numbers from someone who knows more about what they’re doing than I do.

2. In some districts, students did very poorly on one section or very well on another section, and this skews numbers. For all I know, a whole district was coming down with the flu the morning of the math section.

3. I do know one thing about statistics – small sample sizes are bad. I openly grant this is a small sample size – but it’s the biggest sample size I have time to run numbers on. I might cobble together numbers over the previous 8 years, but that’s a project that would take at least a month (if not more) to complete. For this reason, I’ve tried to limit my claims to arguments about the 2008 CAPT results in Hartford County exclusively (while allowing for a few broader implications).

4. These numbers do not reflect “Proficiency” or passing rate – they only reflect the high achieving numbers at “Goal.” I have absolutely no idea if a “Proficiency” chart would look the same as the one above (though every instinct I have says it would look similar).

5. There’s no way (that I know of) to control for district size in these numbers. West Hartford is a large district – you would think it would be easier to identify struggling students in smaller districts (and you would think it would also be easier to get them the resources they need). I could be totally wrong about that, too.

________________________________

Regardless, with the one indicator of Free/Reduced lunch eligibility in mind, I stand by my prior claim that to compare West Hartford’s test scores exclusively with more affluent districts is not a fair way to judge the success of our teachers, students, curricula or system.


Note: I’m providing these statistics to spark conversation, and because I think they’re interesting. There’s every chance I’ve messed something up, or done something remarkably “statistics stupid,” so please don’t treat them as fact or truth. I welcome ways to make these numbers work “better.”

Posted in CAPT Scores, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

5 Things That Make West Hartford Great, July Edition

Posted by whforums on July 23, 2008

So. West Hartford. Maybe it’s the rain and the darkness of the day, but I’m disheartened.

As a community right now, we’re fractured. We’re divided on the budget and we’re divided on test scores. We love Blue Back Square and we think Blue Back Square will be the ultimate undoing of our town. We’re old money who resents new money, new money who’s baffled by old money, we’re paying off the raised ranch and we’re making the rent by a dime (and sometimes we’re not making the rent at all). We could be a symphony of talk if only our ears were attuned.

So, enough with the negativity. Today I “celebrate West Hartford” with a constellation of gratitude — not because I think you care, but because it makes me feel better, and it relieves this blog, at least for a day, from the negativity that threatens to engulf it.

So here, in hope, I say, West Hartford: Whatever divides us is less matter than our fastening gravity.

5 Things to be Grateful For in West Hartford, July Edition

√ I’m grateful that Max’s Oyster Bar (one of my favorite restaurants, alongside a couple in Ithaca, NY — Maxies Supper Club and Just a Taste) serves Unibroe beer. One night I was there with my wife and I even scored some Maudite (one of my favorites, and a hard find around here). Max’s — you rock. And you will continue to rock as long as you keep serving brews from Unibroe.

√ The animals at Westmoor Park. When you pull into Westmoor Park there’s a “No Dog” sign (a circled dog head with a line through it). And usually that would piss me off. But, at the same time, I know that, if I let my dog out of the car, she would eat the chickens. In fact, it’s likely that my dog would try to eat all of the other animals, too (we’re not starving her and she’s a sweet dog — but she’s a dog). That I can look at that sign and not be irritated — knowing that we have a place like Westmoor for our kids (and our adults) — how great is that?

√ We may all be pissed off at each other, but we’re very civic minded about our dogs. When I walk my dog (who is old and no so dog-friendly anymore,) 9 out of 10 people I encounter have their dog leashed. You rock, dog leashing folks of West Hartford.

√ I’m grateful for the house coffee at 59ers in the Center. I could live on this stuff. Dunno what you’re brewing, but you’re brewing the best cup of coffee this side of anywhere. You folks also rock (in a “daily bread” sort of way).

√ We occupy space with the full force of our violence. And yet, presupposing our weight, each of us, in so many moments, gives way, not socially or in material, but of our minds, as though discreetly alerted to a passing occupation. We just won’t admit it.

Such that:

I make way and you fasten yourself to that emptiness.

________

See what I mean? I’m just a bit … dragged out by it all.

So, make the 60,000 of us whole and tell us what you’re grateful for this July, West Hartford.

(And if you mention the budget in this thread, you’re going in the spam filter with the rest of the porn …)

Posted in Abstract Babble, gratitude, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Is Visconti’s Campaign Strapped for Cash?

Posted by whforums on July 21, 2008

As many of you already know, Republican councilperson Joe Visconti is running for US Representative in Connecticut’s first district (that’s us) this fall against incumbent Democrat John Larson. And as you likely also know, since winning the seat vacated by Barbara Kennelly in 1998, Larson has absolutely thrashed his competition (beating Scott MacLean in 2006 74% to 26%). In a district that’s almost impossible to win for Republicans, and in an election season that seems to be difficult sledding for Republicans, Visconti’s candidacy seems to either suggest a cynically calculated grab for name recognition or a bold ambition and idealism.

Regardless of Visconti’s motivations, the Bristol Press is reporting that Visconti’s “campaign treasurer wrote on July 9 to the Federal Election Commission that Visconti, a West Hartford businessman aiming to unseat U.S. Rep. John Larson, had neither raised nor spent $5,000 yet.” Larson, meanwhile, had raised $700,000 by April, with more than $200,000 cash on hand. The Bristol Press compares Visconti’s current fundraising to Green Party candidate Stephen Fournier, who has also raised less than $5,000. In other words, Larson has outraised both Visconti and Fournier at least 140:1.

Granted — it’s July, and a lot can happen between now and November. But if Visconti is really serious about unseating John Larson and heading to Washington this winter, he’s got a lot of work — and apparently a lot of fundraising — ahead of him.

The consequences of lagging in fundraising are self evident. But Ghengis Conn (the blogger behind ctlocalpolitics.net) spells out (with many cool graphs, I might add) what he believes will be an ugly November for Visconti:

“In the last election (2007) Visconti squeaked into a town council seat by polling 4,563 votes. Mayor Scott Slifka led the voting with 9,591. Will he do better than MacLean? Probably. But he obviously isn’t going to touch Larson, not even in West Hartford. His story is the story of every Republican candidate in the 1st. He won’t raise much money, he probably won’t get on TV, national Republicans will ignore him and the media will forget he even exists. Larson will end up winning by a huge margin–and in a year when Republicans are having a tough time anyway, Visconti is in for a drubbing.”

Might be time to spur that horse, Joe …

Links:

Visconti for Congress

Larson for Congress

Fournier for Congress

image source

Posted in 2008 Election, Local Democracy, National News | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

CAPT and CMT Roundup

Posted by whforums on July 21, 2008

Over the past week, the focus of the West Hartford “blogosphere” has been on the release of 2008 CAPT and CMT scores. And despite the many disagreements about the scores and how they can/should be interpreted, one things seems pretty clear: the town of West Hartford is significantly invested in the question of education.

In the spirit of conversation (and in the spirit of that investment), here’s a centralized resource for the many conversations about West Hartford’s 2008 CAPT and CMT scores.

A * indicates a newish post.

CAPT Scores

West Hartford Forums has two posts on CAPT scores — an initial score report and a closer look at West Hartford CAPT score trends over the past 8 years.

* West Hartford Forums took one last shot at CAPT scores, drawing a correlation between a district’s percentage of free/reduced lunch eligibility and their 2008 CAPT performance.

The commenters on WH Dad have a pretty interesting ongoing conversation about the implications of this year’s CAPT scores.

Talk of West Hartford has a consolidated post that discusses both CMT and CAPT scores, arguing that although West Hartford has good scores, the scores aren’t good enough

CMT Scores

West Hartford Forums has a post on the initial release of CMT scores, as well as a post that argues that measuring West Hartford’s CMT scores against other members of its District Reference Group may be misleading.

Talk of West Hartford has a post on CMT/DRG that argues that West Hartford’s poor performance in its DRG is a result of curricular failures.

* Talk of West Hartford has pulled together some interesting data that seeks to establish a relationship between CMT scores and per-pupil expenditures.

A good place to start if you’re looking to understand the definition of DRG …

Other Posts

Fatmixx has an interesting post about the quality of our conversations around CAPT/CMT, asking the important question: Are we talking to each other, or are we just making noise?

*Fatmixx also has a fracking great post that attempts to synthesize several of the ongoing conversations about the budget and test scores.  If there’s one post to read in all of our conversations, this is the one.

The Greater Hartford Real Estate Blog has an excellent post (and a fracking cool graph) about the relationship between CMT scores and the value of your home.

I’ll do the best I can to keep this updated — if I’ve missed a link, please email to whforums@gmail.com

Posted in CAPT Scores, CMT Results, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Closer Look at West Hartford’s 2008 CMT Results: The Problem with DRG

Posted by whforums on July 18, 2008

Well, West Hartford, the news on the 2008 CMT scores is not only mixed, but there’s so much data available that the news is really spinnable. So I’m going to present you with two different scenarios by which to measure West Hartford’s CMT results and you can make up your own mind about what the results themselves mean.

Sorting by DRG

DRG stands for “District Reference Groups,” and it’s a way for the state to compare school districts that are roughly equal in terms of things like “Parents’ education” and “Home Langauge” and “Median Family Income.” There are 9 DRGs in Connecticut, ranging from A-I (“A” being wicked affluent, “I” being wicked poor). West Hartford is grouped in DRG B with the K-12 districts of Avon, Brookfield, Chester, Fairfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Greenwich, Guilford, Madison, Monroe, New Fairfield, Newtown, Simsbury, South Windsor and Trumbull.

The bad news? West Hartford did not fare well against its state-assigned DRG colleagues in the CMTs this year. Across every section of every CMT test, West Hartford students failed to meet DRG average (although it’s important to keep in mind that they still blew away state average). The table below shows the percentage of West Hartford students who met “Goal” (the highest level of achievement) on each section of the exam, followed by the percentage of students in DRG B who met “Goal” on that section. The numbers that follow show West Hartford’s rank on each section of the exam (out of the 17 districts).

For example, the score 71%/81% 15/17 would mean that 71% of West Hartford students met “Goal,” 81% of DRG B students met “Goal,” and West Hartford’s rank out of the 17 DRG B districts was 15th. Make sense?

Some Concerns about Measuring by DRG

Clearly, these numbers don’t look good, despite the fact that each of our “Goal” percentage numbers is well above state average. But I would also argue that these percentages and rankings are extremely misleading for two reasons.

First, of these 17 K-12 districts, West Hartford is the second largest (behind Fairfield), and, frankly, no one else is really close. Almost 700 West Hartford 8th graders took the CMTs (almost 730 in Fairfield). Compare this to Avon (305 testers), Brookfield (255 testers) and Guilford (307 testers). Several other towns had fewer than half the number of students taking the CMTs than did West Hartford.

Second, since average income is a significant factor in grouping these districts, you would expect free and reduced lunch, a traditional way to measure the affluence of a given district, to be roughly equivalent between the districts. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), there is simply no comparison between West Hartford and these other towns. In fact, of the 17 districts, only one district in the 2006-2007 school year (the most recent stats I could find) had even half of the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch that West Hartford did.

Measuring by Free/Reduced Lunch Percentages

So, finally then, what happens if you compare West Hartford against those districts that are closest to it in terms of the % of students eligible for free and reduced lunch? I’ve taken the 8 towns closest to West Hartford in terms of that % (the four closest with a higher % and the four closest with a lower %) and averaged all of their 07-08 CMT scores (each exam at each grade level) to create one “Average % at Goal” score.

The result? When measured not by income, but rather by the percentage of children who can’t afford lunch (and thus by the percentage of families at a specifically low-income level), West Hartford finishes only behind the town of Wolcott (who, incidentally, tested only 35% of the 8th graders West Hartford tested).

My horrifically superficial read? There are two West Hartfords, and to measure West Hartford against towns which are almost exclusively affluent will of course cast our test scores in a negative light. Which brings me back to the drum I’ve been banging … Who are we? Who have we been? Who are we becoming?

Note: I’m providing these statistics to spark conversation, and because I think they’re interesting. There’s every chance I’ve messed something up, or done something remarkably “statistics stupid,” so please don’t treat them as fact or truth. I welcome ways to make these numbers work “better.”
Free/Reduced Lunch Source: http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/cedar/profiles/index.htm#g
CMT Score Source: http://solutions1.emetric.net/cmtpublic/Index.aspx

Posted in CMT Results, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »