Topic:
EDUCATION (GENERAL);
Location:
EDUCATION - (GENERAL);

OLR Research Report


June 18, 2004

 

2004-R-0494

EDUCATIONAL REFERENCE GROUPS AND COMPARISON OF FARMINGTON AND PLAINVILLE

By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked when and why the Educational Reference Groups (ERGs) were created, what the ERG factors are, and whether they have changed. You also asked for a comparison of Plainville's and Farmington's ERG factors, per-pupil spending, special education spending, and special education prevalence rates.

SUMMARY

The State Department of Education (SDE) created the educational reference groups (ERGs) in 1989 as a research and performance measurement tool. ERGs are a classification system under which school districts are grouped together to allow legitimate education outcome comparisons among districts. SDE uses seven factors to classify districts into ERGs. Most are socio-economic characteristics that correlate strongly with educational achievement, including family income, parents' educational attainment, family structure, and whether English is spoken in the home.

Plainville and Farmington are in different ERGs. Farmington's ERG factors show the district has higher income, employment, and educational levels than Plainville. This is reflected in the fact that Farmington is in ERG B, which is the second most affluent of the nine ERGs, while Plainville is in ERG G, the seventh-ranked of the nine.

The two districts had similar per-pupil educational and special education spending for the 2002-03 school year. Farmington had a lower percentage of students qualifying for special education in that year.

EDUCATIONAL REFERENCE GROUPS

History and Rationale

SDE created the ERGs in 1989. According to a 1989 research bulletin, ERGs were intended to help in accountability reporting. The purpose was to classify school districts to provide fair comparisons of student achievement among districts with similar characteristics.

Prior to instituting the ERGs in 1989, SDE compared districts based on “type of community.” The “type of community” comparison was used between 1978 and 1989. It divided districts into six groups: five large cities, 23 fringe cities, 18 medium cities, 45 suburban towns, 31 emerging suburban towns, and 44 rural towns. The basis of the “type of community” analysis was the U.S. Census Bureau's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The comparison factors were population, proximity to an urban area, and economic ties to an urban area. In creating ERGs, SDE was seeking to classify districts by characteristics that research shows are more closely linked to educational achievement (“Educational Reference Groups: An Aid to Accountability Reporting,” SDE Research Bulletin #1, School Year 1989-90).

ERG Classification Factors and Changes Over Time

The original 1989 ERGs divided Connecticut's school districts into seven groups. There are currently nine ERGs. The 1989 ERGs considered six factors; currently, seven are used. The nine current ERGs are labeled A through I. ERG A is the most affluent group, with the highest average income, educational level, and percentage of managerial and professional occupations. Districts in the lowest socioeconomic level are found in ERG I, which is made up of the districts in the state's seven largest cities.

In 1996, which is the last time SDE updated the ERG factors, the department reported making the following “improvements” in the ERG factors:

1. restricting the data to the characteristics of children attending public school and their families;

2. updating census data to 1990;

3. using 1994 state data for poverty and enrollment;

4. expanding the number of groups from seven to nine to reduce the number of districts per group;

5. changing the unit of analysis, where possible, from the percentage of families or people to percentage of children; and

6. making the groups sensitive to district enrollment. (“Educational Reference Groups, 1996,” SDE Research Bulletin #1, School Year 1996-97)

Table 1 shows the original and current ERG classification factors.

Table 1: Original and Current ERG Factors

ORIGINAL ERG FACTORS

CURRENT ERG FACTORS

Median family income

Median family income

Percent high school graduates

Percent with Bachelors' degree or higher

Percent managerial/professional occupations

Percent executive, managerial, and professional specialty occupations

Percent single-parent families

Percent single-parent families

Percent with incomes below poverty

Number of public school children receiving welfare benefits

Percent non-English home language

Percent non-English home language

 

District enrollment

COMPARISON OF PLAINVILLE AND FARMINGTON

Table 2 shows the current ERG factors, per-pupil spending, special education spending, special education prevalence rates for Plainville and Farmington. The table shows that, while the two districts had similar per-pupil and special education expenditures in the 2002-03 school year (the latest for which figures are available), Farmington's socioeoncomic factors indicate that it is a more affluent and educated district than Plainville. This difference is reflected in their respective ERG classifications of B for Farmington and G for Plainville.

Table 2: Farmington and Plainville Comparison

Factor

Plainville

Farmington

ERG

G

B

District enrollment

2,524

3,480

Percentage of public school students with at least one parent with a Bachelor's degree or higher

18.3%

65.5%

Percentage of children aged 5-17 who received Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1994-95

6.1%

2.0%

Percentage of public school students whose families speak a foreign language at home

8.8%

8.2%

Percentage of public school parents employed and holding jobs in executive, managerial, and professional specialty occupations

20.6%

49.8%

Percentage of public school students living in one-parent or non-family households

22.8%

11.6%

Median family income

$44,704

$63,158

Net current education spending per-pupil (2002-03)*

$9,749.25

$9,055.54

Special education spending (2002-03)

$5,174,629

$5,345,958

Special education prevalence rates (% of students with disabilities) excluding pre-K and adult education (2002-03)

11.1%

8.2%

Source: State Department of Education

*Net current education expenditures include all current public elementary and secondary school expenditures from all sources, excluding reimbursable regular education transportation; tuition revenue; and capital expenditures for land, buildings and equipment, and debt service.

JL:ts