Charter School Earns Distinction

Elm City College Prep, a K-8 charter school run by Achievement First, was one of 97 Connecticut schools to earn top recognition in new school rankings the state released Saturday.

The state Department of Education on ranked Connecticut public schools using a new classification system. It state ranked every public school on a 100-point scale School Performance Index based on “student achievement, change in student achievement, student growth, college- and career-readiness, subgroup performance and college- and career-readiness, and school climate,” according to a state press release. The rankings are based on two state standardized tests from 2011 and 2012: the Connecticut Mastery Test for grades 3 to 8, and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for high school sophomores.

The state switched to the new method of grading schools as part of a deal it made with the federal government to waive the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The new classifications will replace the NCLB sanctions and the “black list” of schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress. The state plans to release the full list this week of including every public school’s score, and where it falls into one of five categories—“excelling,” “progressing,” “transitioning,” “review/focus” and “turnaround.”

On Saturday, the state announced which schools fell into two of the main categories—review and turnaround—and which ones it chose to highlight as “schools of distinction.”

Elm City College Prep was the only New Haven school highlighted as a “school of distinction.” Schools earned that title for overall student test scores, test scores among underperforming subgroups of kids, and improvement on the tests. Elm City College Prep won because one subgroup, black students, scored the highest in the state, along with Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford. Schools of distinction will get “celebratory and financial recognition, and may receive flexibility from certain state requirements,” according to the state’s NCLB waiver application, which the feds approved in May.

Eleven city schools—Barnard, Jepson, Bishop Woods, Celentano, Clinton Avenue, East Rock Community Magnet, Fair Haven, High School In The Community (HSC), Hyde Leadership, King/Robinson, and Lincoln-Bassett—fell on a watch list of “review schools,” among the lowest-performing in the state. Schools on that list either had CMT/CAPT participation rates below 95 percent, four-year cohort graduation rates below 60 percent, or scored below 64 on the 100-point School Performance Index, over three years. Schools can graduate off the watch list if they beat those thresholds two years in a row.

A subset of these New Haven schools are high-needs “focus schools,” a designation that allowed them to share in a total of $3.8 million in extra state money this year. HSC is getting $1.5 million from the state to take part in a new network of turnaround schools in the state Commissioner’s Network; read a series about that school here.

Five New Haven schools fell into the bottom category of “turnaround schools,” failing schools that must take on “significant interventions” if they haven’t already. The five schools—Roberto Clemente Leadership, Hill Central, James Hillhouse, Brennan/Rogers, and Wilbur Cross—have already launched federally sanctioned “turnaround” efforts through the School Improvement Grant program, complete with multi-million federal grants.

The new state classifications do not replace New Haven’s local system of grading schools into three tiers and managing them accordingly. Read about that here and here.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 1, 2012  4:09pm

How about the students that Elm City College Prep send back to the public schools.How many ELL students do Elm City College Prep have?Just asking.

posted by: JohnTulin on December 2, 2012  11:30am

Wow, so teaching to the test really does work!

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 2, 2012  8:40pm

Elm City Prep does not retain problematic students.  Neither does Amistad.  Both schools have a parent-teacher-student contract that is strictly enforced by the school.  If any party violates the contract, there are consequences.  The worst-behaved students always find their way back to public schools.  The Achievement First schools have the luxury of telling parents, in essence, “play by our rules, or there’s the door, there are many other kids waiting to take your kid’s spot.”  Public schools do not have that luxury.  If they did, their scores would be every bit as high as ECP’s or Amistad’s.  Consider: some of New Haven’s public schools have less than 40 percent of their primary-aged students’ parents attending parent-teacher conferences.  Yet, those schools are power-less to hold those parents accountable.  The likes of ECP and Amistad have the luxury to pick and choose who they teach.

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 2, 2012  9:31pm

Threefifths—My point, exactly.  Further, it doesn’t matter much how bright the students are entering any school.  So long as they are willing to learn, follow rules and have parents who support their child’s education, that student CAN achieve. Quality instruction is a major component of education, but it is only one component.  (New Haven puts teachers at its worst schools through intense scrutiny—from Gateway, the state, outside agencies—as if teachers are THE reason those schools are failing, as if all the worst teachers are at the city’s worst schools).  Other major components, of course, include parental involvement/commitment and competent leadership.  I am tired of hearing that AF schools achieve because of their “laser-like” focus on academics and their longer school days.  It is easy to maintain focus and get through longer days when you are not dealing with extremely violent/disrepectful students and parents who scream and yell at each other, teachers and administrators (in the school and during school hours) whenever they have a concern.  Heck, in some of New Haven’s worst schools, the absence of just 1 or 2 students from a class on a given day can make the classroom a whole lot more safer and conducive to learning.  But nobody at the national, state or district level has the courage to acknowledge that. And, IMO, many of AF’s staff wouldn’t last a month in New Haven’s toughest schools.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 2, 2012  11:22pm

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 2, 2012 7:40pm

Elm City Prep does not retain problematic students.  Neither does Amistad.  Both schools have a parent-teacher-student contract that is strictly enforced by the school.  If any party violates the contract, there are consequences.  The worst-behaved students always find their way back to public schools

Maybe Melissa can do a story about this.

posted by: JohnTulin on December 3, 2012  11:05am

Foster kids, homeless students, ex-cons, homeless students, kids who live with elderly caregivers, kids who live in crack dens, non-English speaking students, servery disabled, chronically absent students, violent students…. ....none of these are found at AF and other charters. 

They are found in the thousands in the new Haven Public Schools, It is not an apples to apples comparison, and it is disingenuous to do portray it as such.

posted by: Solsbury on December 3, 2012  11:22am

Amistad (the high school for Elm City), has a graduation rate lower than most New Haven high schools: 58.6%

posted by: Achievement First on December 3, 2012  2:30pm

The correct four-year graduation rate for the AF Amistad High Class of 2011 is 65 percent, and the correct five-year graduation rate is 71 percent, which removes the school from the list of Focus Schools. The reported graduation rate does not account for two students who moved to other countries, one who dropped out after transferring to a traditional district high school, or two who were retained and are still enrolled in AF Amistad High on the path to graduation.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 3, 2012  3:53pm

@Achievement First.Is this true. Elm City Prep does not retain problematic students.  Neither does Amistad.  Both schools have a parent-teacher-student contract that is strictly enforced by the school.  If any party violates the contract, there are consequences.  The worst-behaved students always find their way back to public schools.  The Achievement First schools have the luxury of telling parents, in essence, “play by our rules, or there’s the door, there are many other kids waiting to take your kid’s spot.”  Public schools do not have that luxury.I have had parents tell me about this contract that they sign.

posted by: Achievement First on December 3, 2012  6:00pm

Since Achievement First is a non-profit public charter school, all students are admitted through a blind lottery run by New Haven Public Schools—the same one that includes NHPS choice and magnets schools. Our students, parents and teachers sign a contract outlining their shared commitment to hard work and consistent support of one another. While this contract is not legally binding, it is an important symbolic commitment and plays an important role in strengthening the relationship between parents and the school.

From the first day a student—any student—arrives at one of our schools, we are 100 percent committed to retaining and educating that student. We embrace students who have a wide range of academic abilities and backgrounds, and our schools do not encourage struggling students to leave. Through our individualized approach, extended school day and year, small-group instruction, tutoring programs, and analysis of achievement data, we work hard to ensure all students stay on track and don’t fall through the cracks.

posted by: JohnTulin on December 3, 2012  9:08pm

But, Achievement First, the population I mentioned above (which may make up 30-50% of the population of HH or Cross) don’t apply for schools….it is not a level playing field, of you are going to compare yourselves to the NHPS (which you and your advocates often do).

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 3, 2012  9:29pm

@ Achievement First—AF schools may be 100 percent committed to retaining and educating students of various backgrounds and abilities, but the fact is, many problematic students “fall through the cracks” and find themselves back in public schools.  Even you don’t deny that the worst students leave AF for public schools.

And there you go, boasting about how AF schools analyze data, and provide targeted small group instruction and tutoring.  Well guess what?  So do New Haven’s public schools.

The difference is, public school teachers have to keep the kids they get, no matter how disruptive or disrespectful they are; public school teachers must answer to parents who fail to attend any report card conferences, or ensure their child turns in homework regularly, attends school on time daily, and respects the opportunity of a free education. There is no “contract” behind which to hide.  Must be nice to have a “contract” to harrass apathetic parents about—harrass to the point where they finally choose to pull their child from AF.

I’d gladly work longer days and a longer school year if I could dump problematic students and apathetic parents into your school!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 3, 2012  9:39pm

@Achievement First.Is this true.

Are charter schools cherry-picking their students?

March 5, 2012

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 4, 2012  12:41am

26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System

Read more:

posted by: cattail on December 4, 2012  10:39am

The comments being made about AF schools,  not retaining “problem” students is inaccurate. I have worked in both New Haven Public Schools and for AF, as a teacher. The difference I saw was only that I had support from administration in AF and a great team of teachers. Many of our parents were unsupportive, children violent and extremely disruptive. We had students that were in foster care, had severe disabilities (learning and emotional), and were homeless. These students still excelled because we worked together to support them and their families.

In NHPS, this was completely opposite. I had the same students I had at AF, but no support, administrative or parental. Plus, half of the teachers had been teaching for 25 years and were ineffective. They couldn’t be fired and the newer teachers were left to fend for themselves.

posted by: Achievement First on December 4, 2012  11:44am

Achievement First does not counsel out low-performing students or enroll only high-performing students. As we mentioned, all students are admitted through a blind lottery run by New Haven Public Schools—the same one that includes NHPS choice and magnet schools. The claim that low-performing students leave our schools at higher rates is untrue. In Connecticut in 2010-11, 61 percent of students who withdrew from our schools scored either a 3 (proficiency) or 4 (goal) on the Connecticut Mastery Test the previous year. We remain committed to retaining and educating every student that enrolls in our school through the blind lottery, especially students who struggle academically.

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 4, 2012  12:37pm

@Achievement First—I am not disputing how students are admitted to AF schools or that low-performing ones are retained.  What I have experienced is that problematic students leave AF schools and return to public schools, the ones who are blatantly disrespectful on a routine basis, thereby consistently disrupting the learning environment.  A low performing stduent who wants to learn is one thing, a spoiled brat who purposely defies expectations is another.

cattail—Come now!  AF schools have a parent contract and waiting lists, and we’re supposed to believe that behavior-challenged kids who fail to respond to interventions are not “encouraged” to leave AF?!  Spare us, please.  NHPS has the registration data to prove otherwise.

Further, I don’t appreciate your attitude toward NHPS.  My principal is very hard-working and supportive, works diligently to ensure high-quality instruction occurs daily, involve parents and support teachers. And teachers, particularly in the city’s struggling schools, are working longer days, analyzing data and using their own money to support their students.

Your imply thazt AF teachers have the latest techniques and strategies.  To that I say NONSENSE.  There are many highly-qualified, dedicated teachers who pour their heart and soul into their students.  Just because you allegedly came across some “ineffective” teachers (in your mind) doesn’t mean AF teachers are superior.

posted by: Achievement First on December 4, 2012  7:21pm

Achievement First respects and values teachers in every school—public charter school, magnet school, traditional district school and more. In fact, we are partners with NHPS in the co-development of the Residency Program for School Leadership ( There are many teachers and school leaders, not just within Achievement First, working hard to close the achievement gap. As much as it might seem that AF focuses on counseling or encouraging out “behaviorally challenged” or “problematic” students who fail to respond to interventions, we simply do not. We receive all students through a blind lottery run by the district, we don’t let kids fall through the cracks, and we work hard to provide special and support services to those who need them the most. We don’t give up on kids, and we really care about them. We have the best intention with all of our students and families, and we hope to have the opportunity to share more about our approach so all can see this firsthand.

posted by: NHCitizen on December 4, 2012  7:44pm

As another former teacher in both New Haven Public and Achievement First schools, I have to second everything that cattail said:

The real difference is that you truly get support as a teacher working in an Achievement First classroom. You’re held accountable for every single thing - lesson plans get reviewed, lessons get observed, data gets analyzed - and this is on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Our contract is symbolic - it clearly holds no legal weight and we could not just ask a child to leave our schools if they were in ‘violation’ of it - perhaps for being late too many days in a row or being too disruptive in class. Those are the students we work with to develop behavior plans to support them in class.

We work with the families to problem solve around issues of attendance, homework completion, etc. We pick students up who miss the bus. We do home visits to help students and their families build better reading habits. We spend our own time and money to reward students who are meeting the goals on their behavior plans with trips to the bookstore or to get a slice of pizza. We never, ever, ever counsel students out.

Another thing to note about this contract is that it is signed by the teachers as well. It states that teachers will return phone calls within 24 hours, assign meaningful homework every night and be prompt and present every day. Teachers at AF have over a 95% attendance rate. We’re there because we expect our students to be there.

In the New Haven Public Schools I was an island. There was little to no support from my colleagues or my administration. My NHPS students came from the same homes and backgrounds as my AF students. The true difference was that more students had been taught by ineffective teachers than by effective ones. Those ineffective teachers reinforced bad habits and set low expectations. The tragedy is that either these teachers slipped through the cracks and nobody noticed their poor plans, ineffective lessons, and dismal data or even worse - that they knew about them but had their hands tied and couldn’t do anything about it.

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 5, 2012  9:15am

@NHCitizen—Not one of you folks who supposedly taught at an AF school has explained how beahvior-challenged students continuously leave AF schools and return to public schools.  You all keep raving about how well you work with students and their families, and how accountable you are.  Yet, you haven’t addressed the FACT that incorrigible students leave AF schools for public schools.  I know this because I get them every year.

I’ll tell you another thing: Everything you have boasted about AF teachers doing is the exact same thing New Haven teachers are doing—and doing with less staff, tougher students, and fewer supplies.  NHPS teachers have extended school days, eat lunch with our students, attend weekly data and vertical grade level meetings, produce lesson plans aligned to the CCSS, post clear daily learning objectives, operate meaningful afterschool programs, implement PBiS, and are held accountable through a very thorough review system that rates teachers as exceptional, effective, developing and ineffective (support is provided to “ineffective” teachers and if they don’t show significant progress, they are dismissed); the review holds tyeachers accountable for student achievement, professional development and collegiality.

Just so you know.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 5, 2012  9:25am

@Achievement First.

Bill would waive certification for charter school teachers

Is this true.Seven of Achievement First’s 57 teachers in Hartford are uncertified, according to the State Department of Education, which has repeatedly warned school officials that teachers must be working toward certification or lose their jobs.

Also is it true that charter schools cherry-picking their students?

posted by: Solsbury on December 5, 2012  11:24am

I appreciate the respect that AF now has for us NHPS teachers. I am sure we could cite examples of our students and why the grad rate for hundreds of our kids is misleading as well. High school is hard and requires more than drill and kill, as AF found out. Maybe if they would present themselves as just a different option, rather than constantly berating public schools and claiming they are better (see their press releases and websites) the reaction would be different.