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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

8 Responses to “A Closer Look at West Hartford’s 2008 CMT Results: The Problem with DRG”

  1. whforums said

    Talk of West Hartford
    has a post linking here, and I thought I’d copy the comment I’d made on that site here (trying to keep ideas together and put this site on record, etc.):

    First, thanks for your kind words about the post. The data took a while to cobble together, so it’s nice to be read.

    A few points where I’d disagree with you. I appreciate the sentiment and idealism behind the phrase “poor kids in West Hartford schools should be doing just as well as more affluent kids.” And you know what? I bet many of the 14 percent of kids who are on free and reduced lunch are doing as well as the affluent kids. At the same time, as study after study has shown, no indicator can predict student success and failure as well as socio-economic status. While I don’t doubt that our system offers equal opportunity to every student, to pretend that the student who has recently been evicted from their home (and who, quite frankly, is hungry) at test time will do as well as the well-situated, affluent kid simply isn’t realistic (I grant the exaggeration there, but scale the example down and it still works – a student living in sub-standard conditions does not have the same advantages or opportunities as the student living in above-standard conditions). This gets even worse with CAPT scores – students who come from difficult socio-economic situations may be working an illegal number of hours per week (to contribute to family income) and may very well be exhausted come test time. If they’re not exhausted during the test, such a student most likely was exhausted when attempting to learn the material for the test. A student in poverty has equal opportunity in terms of school resources – but that student likely has very difficulty day-to-day realities that can impact their test scores. Let’s also not forget that affluent students are more likely to have access to tutoring outside of school and a secure, safe and guaranteed study place (I can hear the argument that “the student without a safe/secure study space should study in the library” from here, but that’s not going to do much good for the 4th grader who has to be home right after school to take care of the new baby in the family, etc.).

    Second, re: your statement that some may read the claim about socio-economics as an argument against Sheff v O’Neill and Project Choice – I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth. The home life of a student has a significant impact on the school performance of a student, and all too often those students in difficult socio-economic positions either don’t have adequate parental support (because of how many hours the parent(s) is working) or adequate parental investment (the parent(s) may not see the value of education because they don’t feel their education got them anywhere). The beauty of something like Project Choice is that, although it can’t guarantee as much full-time parenting as a “stay at home mom,” it can guarantee parental investment, which is one key indicator in student success. Obviously the argument isn’t that “poor students can’t be educated.” There are mountains of evidence to contradict that statement, and I deeply believe that education is the great equalizer in our nation (it is the highway to power for the disempowered). The argument isn’t about the educability of the person, the argument is about recognizing the success of the student in the context of their lives. The argument I’d make would be that “students who come from socio-economic difficulty have a higher probability of encountering day-to-day stresses and problems that will negatively impact their test scores.” It has nothing to do with intelligence or ability to learn and everything to do with the daily peripherals that lead to high scores on standardized testing. Poor kids will do well on these tests and rich kids will do poorly. I’m simply talking “what are the odds” – and I’d argue that, for a million different reasons, the deck is stacked against the poor. Sheff and Project Choice are two ways to begin to deal even hands.

    There a lot of things behind every student who crosses the stage at graduation and every student who decides “I’m dropping out.” But while students who are financially at risk may have equal access to academic and town resources, I think you’ll find a general, state-wide correlation between socio-economic standing and test scores, and that’s because of countless out-of-school reasons – not because of student intelligence. I really don’t know much about DRGs, but it seems wrong to me to pretend that West Hartford’s test scores will compete with test scores from districts where students face poverty – and all the consequences poverty entails — at 1/5th the rate.

  2. whtalk said

    Thanks whforums
    And here was our response as well:
    whforums –

    Thanks for your response.

    “a student living in sub-standard conditions does not have the same advantages or opportunities as the student living in above-standard conditions”

    This may be true, but where in West Hartford are kids living in sub-standard conditions? What exactly do you define as sub-standard?

    Where do we have kids living in the abject poverty and circumstances that you are claiming? and where are these kids that are working illegal numbers of hours? We will grant there may be a few, but we doubt that is the major reason behind the lag in our town’s test scores.

    Your reasoning would be spot on if we were talking about Hartford schools and Hartford kids – but West Hartford is not Hartford. Our schools offer the best teachers, the best resources, etc. and it is accessible to All students enrolled there. We have all kinds of intervention programs, and a deep commitment to obtaining parental involvement, so your argument makes little sense in so far as those problems getting in the way of kids success. That is why we are not buying this as an excuse.

    Please document how many of West Hartford’s 4th graders actually have to go home to take care of a new baby. We will wager there are very few. And we would like to know how many of West Hartford kids who are engaged in that activity took the tests and how they did on them.

    Your comments are well taken if we are talking about Hartford and Hartford schools and Hartford problems.. and we agree totally that socio-economic issues have a great bearing on students if they are attending equally impoverished schools.

    Again we simply said that poor kids going to good schools should do just as well as affluent kids going to good schools and that is primarily the reason for programs like Project Choice otherwise what is the sense of those programs? You even pointed out that “There are mountains of evidence to contradict the statement” that poor kids can’t be educated. We believe wholeheartedly that poor kids CAN absolutely be educated given the access to the resources like we have here in West Hartford. No one said it would be easier.

    That was our point – it seems you might have missed it. Poor kids CAN be educated if they attend good schools… so in West Hartford they ARE attending good schools. So you are saying now that even despite that – they cannot succeed.

    Show us the kids in West Hartford living in similar circumstances to those in Hartford and prove to us that those kids did poorly on the tests.

    We will wager that you will also find affluent kids who did poorly on the tests and to what would you attribute their failure?
    Maybe they spent too much time shopping for iPhones at the mall.

  3. Huh? said

    I am not pretending to know all the ins and outs of WH’s public school system. And maybe I’m looking at the whole “socio-economic significance of educational success” debate in a too-oversimplified way.

    But with all due respect, I find WHTalk’s most recent post… certainly idealistic… but also ignorant.

    Maybe most of our public school kids are not living in “abject poverty,” but I bet that some of them are living with less home resources that would have a significant impact on their success in school.

    Sure, I might be in the same classes with the same good teachers and good resources as my classmate who sits next to me. And she and I are both good students in school who are equally intelligent and try to put in equal effort in class.

    But I have to go to work after school to help out a little with my family’s income, and that cuts into the time and energy that I have to study, compared to my classmate. She can go home and study all afternoon for tomorrow’s test. When I get home at night, I have to take care of my younger brother and sister. Or I have to take care of my own child. That makes it hard to find time to write the paper that’s due in two days. Wait, I need to do some research for that paper. I have no internet access from home because it’s too expensive. We’re lucky we have an old computer and old printer, or maybe just an electric typewriter, with which I can type my paper. My classmate on the other hand is Googling away on her own computer in her own bedroom. I can’t get to library because my single parent has the only car at work. And there’s no one else to take care of my sibling/child tonight. Maybe I can find time to get to the school library tomorrow; I have a full class schedule, but I can skip lunch to go to the library. I’ll just be hungry for the rest of the day, making it difficult to concentrate in my afternoon classes. I can’t ask my parent for help, because my parent is not as “involved” a parent as my classmate’s; they either are physically not there when I need them, or they are too tired or busy to help when they are there, or they just don’t really care that much about my education. You should see how many parent-teacher conferences they’ve no-showed, even since elementary school. What can the school do to them? Put them in detention? Arrest them for not showing up to a parent-teacher conference or for not signing up for the PTO/PTA? I am not living in “abject poverty;” I have a roof over my head and shoes on my feet and food to eat. But I am living “sub-standardly” compared to my classmate. But you know, when I go to school tomorrow and the next day, because I am in the same classes with the same good teachers and I’m just as smart as my classmate, I bet I’ll do just as well as her on my tests and grades.

    Although we may wish it were true, it is ignorant to believe that there are no “poor kids” in West Hartford. It is also ignorant to believe that all parents are as involved in their kids’ education as you are. Because they just aren’t. Circumstances outside of school (um… like socio-economic circumstances?) most certainly have a great impact on success in school.

  4. WH Alum said

    Fabulous, analysis, WH Forums, thank you! I so tire of hearing people compare us to our DRG B towns. I really cannot figure out how we get in there, except that we have some people with such outragreously high incomes that they must pull our averages way out of proportion. And those are most likely the people whose kids are in private schools, anyway, so their scores are not benefiting the WHPS scores when they are ranked.

    Huh? – Love the post. We so do have kids like that in our schools. I can’t name them and don’t have any specific data, but we had a couple of pregnant girls in our class at Hall back in the 80s – I would imagine there are even more today. And we certainly have kids without computer access or at least not their own as some do. I just can’t buy whatsoever that all kids being given the same school programming should be able to succeed the same. That is completely ignorant and turning a blind eye to the very real impact of family life on a child’s education, especially as it sets the stage and child’s habits in the early years.

  5. whtalk said

    In response to Huh?

    If we indeed have all these kids with all of these tremendous problems and obstacles then you are saying that nothing we do with our curriculum will help them, nor will we ever close the achievement gap. You are saying our teachers cannot reach those parents, or their kids. There is nothing we can do to help them excel. They are doomed to fail. They are all so overwhelmed babysitting their siblings and cooking dinner for their families when they should be studying etc. that no school curriculum program will ever help them. No one from poor families, or families with problems can ever succeed, even if they have the school resources that we offer them. That is what you are saying.

    Don’t bother spending more money on reading programs or other curriculum changes/initiatives because these kids just won’t have the time to devote to it or have parents who care. (well that’s what you are essentially saying).

    We’ll just have to abandon our DRG and move to a better one that we can look better in in comparison, because no other town in our DRG has minorities of poor people or families in crisis. Everyone lives in peachy circumstances in all those other towns in our DRG.
    If WHTalk is ignorant then Huh? is as well. Every town has it’s families with problems, rich and poor. People either avail themselves of their opportunities or they won’t.

    “But you know, when I go to school tomorrow and the next day, because I am in the same classes with the same good teachers and I’m just as smart as my classmate, I bet I’ll do just as well as her on my tests and grades.”

    Isn’t that what is expected?
    Maybe the schools should grade on a curve based on socio-economic realities. That is what you are saying.

    You are also assuming that all the kids coming from Free and reduced Lunch homes face having to babysit siblings etc, and that their parents do not care. That is a pretty broad generalization, and apparently you do not believe that there are rich kids that also have parents that do not care and make their kids babysit siblings.

    And what of the affluent kids in our town who did poorly? There weren’t any at all, right?

  6. Concerned parent said

    My apologies for some statistical mumbo-jumbo but it will important for the interpretation of last years test scores. I just want to point for the sake of accuracy of this discussion that very obviously the computation of the DRG groups using the average (=mean) income or basing it on the percentage of students eligible for free lunches is statistically not tenable. In a demographically greatly polarized population with a smaller group of very affluent and a larger number of less fortunate citizens both mean and median income tends to over-represent the affluent group. A “free lunch based” estimation tends to over-represent the other end of the spectrum. A better statistically measure uses the income (or income racket) into which a majority of the population falls or best compares the towns on the basis of the entire income distribution. Unless we have this data on a statewide level, we really do not know what our investment into the WH public school resources has delivered. This is evidenced that the students of many towns in lower DRG groups outperform those of West Hartford. Looking at the data published in the Courant it becomes eerily clear that WH still falls into the middle of the field in groups C or even D.
    Given the by statewide comparison substantial amount of resources invested per student, the results do raise the question about their appropriate use. Perhaps emphasizing access to resources such as internet and computers at schools really does not reach those who we try to provide with equality of education. It is nothing they can utilize when their time permits it. Perhaps, an absence of structured text books that would permit engaged parents to get involved in a meaningful manner leads exactly to what we intend to avoid, namely a growing indifference towards how knowledge is being brought to our children.
    Evidently, we cannot provide laptops and high speed internet connections free to everyone in our town but a return to old fashioned text book available at each home might just do the trick. It certainly would give all students the means to look up what they need to know in an organized manner at any time and whenever they need to. Homework flyers downloaded from the internet definitely do not make for an organized learning experience!! Perhaps, it is time to find other communities that could share in such investment in order to lower the cost per town.
    One final thought: the WH school system has performed admirably in the past and has attracted many new people into the town. Our curriculum may be excellent but do all parents really understand the sequence of what is being taught? Nowhere can be found cohesive and exact information on the day to day curriculum and differences in the chosen teaching material exist from school to school. I wonder then that this raises the perception that academic learning is confined to the school? If so, such development may just be the beginning of indifference in a larger section of the population. Then, we are already seeing the results of such beginning development.

  7. WH Teacher said

    Actually, Concerned Mom, since I came to WH, I’ve been surprised at how much we still do use text books and still put a lot of $$ into replacing them periodically. Some towns that outperform us have had much better instructional technology programs in place for much longer. The newer text books are coming along with a nice combination of web-based materials to complement the books.

  8. databoy said

    I highly recommend the following state website for its ability to analyze CMT and CAPT data. You can really dig beneath the surface of the district results to see the performance of subgroups and you can do side by side comparisons of schools, districts, etc….


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