Report finds state`s schools offer a formula for success
  By LINDA CONNER LAMBECK       Wednesday, July 26, 2000 

           Even before Connecticut students scored highest in the nation in reading, math and writing, the state had the right ingredients for academic success.

               So says a federal study released Tuesday that attempts to determine what factors help students achieve academic success. 

               "I wouldn't complain at all about Connecticut in terms of what this report found," said David Grissmer, lead author of a report commissioned by Rand, a California think-tank. 

               The report, based on six years worth of National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, found that states that reduce class sizes, enroll more children in preschool, give teachers more classroom materials and provide additional money to educating poor children show the best results. 

               The report compares scores of students from similar types of families to try and figure out what role state policies and schools play in test scores. It analyzed data from 1990 to 1996, missing the big gain Connecticut showed in 1997 and 1998 on the test. 

               Thomas Murphy, a state Department of Education spokesman, said that Connecticut would show up in an even more favorable light if those years were included. 

               The study found Connecticut family characteristics are generally quite good, Grissmer said.

               The state's parental education levels are first in the nation, while its teen birth rate is the fifth lowest.  Families here earn among the highest per-capita incomes in the nation. 

               In addition to that, the state has class sizes that are the third lowest in the nation, per-pupil spending that is the fifth-highest, an experienced teaching force that is one of the highest paid in the nation and among the most satisfied with the resources they get. 

               "So you guys are doing well. You spend a lot of money but do it well," said Grissmer. 

               He added the state would do even better if it followed through on effort to improve urban education in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. 

               The report said an ideal situation would be for a state to have good families, good schools and good scores. 

               "No state is among the top states in all three measures.  However several states have above average to high rankings on all three," the report states. 

               Connecticut is on that short list, along with New Jersey, Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine. 

               The report also found that Texas schoolchildren - regardless of how much money their parents make or what race they are - are likely to do better than counterparts in other states. 

               Conversely, California children had the lowest scores in several socioeconomic categories. 

               The study ranked the 44 states that participate in the voluntary NAEP test program by average test scores, average score improvement and by comparing scores of students with similar race and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

               The study was funded by ExxonMobil's education foundation, the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation, as well as divisions of the Education Department and Rand itself. 

               Interest in measuring states has grown in recent years and comes at a time when governors are not only taking the lead in education, but profiting politically when students do measure up. 

               What did not necessarily help children's scores, the Rand study said, was simply having teachers who were highly paid or with advanced degrees. 

               "The current system rewards experience and education - but neither seems to be strongly related to producing higher achievement," the report said. 

               Murphy agreed, but said the report affirms the state Department of Education's position that no one thing, but several things, are needed to increase student achievement

               "That's important. It's a multi-year approach rather than a fad or series of fads that works," he said. 

               The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
             Linda Conner Lambeck, who covers regional education issues, can be reached at 330-6218