Roiled by Rankings
When Connecticut districts are asked how well they stack up against
one another, they won't be able to answer that question as easily today
as they have in the past.
In releasing its latest test results, the Connecticut Department of Education opted this year not to include an index that had allowed school systems to be ranked from best to worst.
First computed by the state in 1999, the annual index had boiled down the scores from multiple student assessments to produce overall figures for each district.
Agency officials who decided to drop the index worried it was causing more harm than good, said department spokesman Thomas Murphy. Although the state itself hasn't released actual district rankings, The Hartford Courant, a newspaper in the state capital, has used the index to publish its own such comparisons.
Critics of the rankings have said they send the wrong message by drawing more attention to a school system's relative placement than to its overall level of achievement. In a letter protesting new federal testing requirements last fall, a group of faculty members at Central Connecticut State University also wrote that the Courant's rankings "represent an egregious misuse of testing information."
Mr. Murphy added that the overly generalized numbers often fail to pinpoint a district's strengths and weaknesses. "There could be a district with stellar scores in math and writing and the worst scores in the state in reading," he said. "And yet their index might be no different than in a district with average or somewhat-above-average scores in all three areas."
The state first tried to de-emphasize the index three years ago, when it gave only overall figures for each grade tested, rather than also providing one composite number for each district. But the Hartford paper still used the results to calculate a ranking.
With the index now gone, state officials—who released the new batch of test results this month—hope others will take greater pains to fully analyze the reams of information in Connecticut's phonebook-sized reports on student performance. Mr. Murphy conceded that a ranking still could be calculated using all the data in those volumes, but it would take some awesome number-crunching.
"And the question is," he said, "would it be worth it?"
Vol. 22, Issue 23, Page 15Published in Print: February 19, 2003, as State Journal