In Hartford, school district officials say test scores held firm and showed some healthy gains. But as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, the way you talk about test scores can be just as important as the scores themselves. It wasn't the press release Matt Poland would have written. "I would have written it with both the good and the not-so-good sharing common billing."
Poland is the chairman of Hartford's board of education. He says he was happy that the superintendent's press release about this year's test scores mentions the schools that did well. But what about the others? "Well, it's important because it's real. It's the actual situation. And while I don't think that the district is attempting to hide anything by not talking about it, it doesn't give it its proper view."
It's not surprising that Poland sees things differently from the current superintendent. He, and a majority of the board, recently voted against extending her contract. Communication has been a long-standing issue.
Achieve Hartford! is an education advocacy organization funded by the business community and philanthropies. It, too, talks about the results differently from the district -- it says it was a tough year, calls the scores flat, and says that the trend of improvement has apparently stalled. Paul Diego Holzer is the organization's executive director. "How we message the current performance levels of schools and students in Hartford I think is reflective of us coming at this from two different angles."
So, for instance, Hartford has been trying to close the gap in test scores between Hartford students and their suburban peers. This year, the district says it continued to narrow that gap. Not because Hartford did better, but because its neighbors did worse. "While it allows the district and the city and even my organization to tell a story of an achievement gap narrowing, it does indeed provide little consolation to folks who have shown declines or stayed completely flat in their levels of improvement." Holzer Poland agree that messaging matters. Because improving the city's schools is hard work -- work best undertaken if stakeholders have a complete accounting of the district's successes and its failures.