Report finds state`s schools offer a formula for success
  By LINDA CONNER LAMBECK     Linda.Lambeck@Thomnews.com       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 gains
               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 efforts
               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
 .