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?