Are All Magnet Schools Created Equal?

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Families in Hartford and surrounding suburbs of the Greater Hartford area are given many options when it comes to where they send their kids to schools. Students no longer necessarily attend their neighborhood or town public school but have an option to attend schools such as magnet schools. In a recent report on school choice, magnet schools are shown to have higher student achievement and racial integration. The author of this report, the Sheff Movement, imply that magnet schools that meet integration all have higher test scores on the CMT and the CAPT in comparison to the students in Hartford who attend Hartford public district schools. In this study, we focus on clarifying this implication; while many magnet schools that meet integration are high scoring, this is not the case for every single one. In our investigation, we found three schools where a lower percentage of students scored at or above the test goals in comparison to the Connecticut average and meet integration. Instead of elaborating on all three of the magnet schools that meet integration but have lower test scores, we will be focusing on one: Public Safety Academy.

How Magnet Schools came to be

Click to visit the Capitol Region Education Council Website

Before we go into the specific magnet schools, it is important to understand what exactly magnet schools are and how they became popular in the Greater Hartford area. Magnet schools are schools with a specialized theme that are still run as public schools. To enroll, students must apply and be selected through a random lottery process. In Connecticut, magnet schools gained popularity after the Sheff v. O’Neill (1996) court decision. This court case called for equal educational opportunity for children in Hartford, which would happen through desegregation of the schools. As a result of this case, magnet schools were and still are encouraged to be built by Sheff advocates because they are thought to provide quality, integrated environments (Dougherty, 2012). In their opinion, learning happens best when students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different racial backgrounds, are together in a classroom (Eaton, 2007). Students not only from Hartford but also the Greater Hartford area can apply to go to magnet schools and be put into their lottery, thus creating a more integrated environment in the schools. Additionally, students either can attend Hartford Host Magnet Schools that are run by the city of Hartford, or Capitol Region Education Council Magnet Schools (CREC) that are run by a council. For more information on Sheff history, we compiled a timeline for our readers to have a better understanding.

The Sheff Movement Report

The Sheff Movement Report has brought us to our topic of study. On October 19th, 2012, the Sheff Movement released a report of the percentage of Hartford resident students attending local and choice programs by grade that scored at or above goal on the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (CAPT).  Goal-level and Proficiency-level are determined by the Connecticut Department of Education. The CMT is administered to Grades 3-8, and students are assessed in reading, mathematics, writing, and science (Grade 5 and 8 only). The CAPT assesses the same subject areas in Grade 10; students who fail to pass may retake the test in Grade 11 and 12 to graduate from a Connecticut public high school. Both tests are meant to measure progress among students as well as assess criteria for curricula decided upon by Connecticut educators (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2012). More descriptive information about these tests can be found at the Bureau of Student Assessment site, sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Education.

In the report, the Sheff Movement states that the data on test scores “show striking achievement results for Hartford children attending racially and economically integrated regional magnet schools” (Sheff Movement, 2012). The claim implies that Hartford students attending any magnet school, whether a CREC Magnet School or Hartford Host Magnet School have a higher percentage of students scoring at or above the test goals. As we read the report, we were skeptical of the complete accuracy of their claim across all magnet schools. Do all magnet schools that meet integration all have promising test scores? While we found that many did, three did not: International Magnet School for Global Citizenship, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy and Public Safety Academy. At International Magnet School for Global Citizenship, only 50% of the students are at or above the test goal and 27.5% of the student body is white (Trinity College, 2012; Connecticut State Department of Education, 2010). At Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, 57% of the students score at or above the test goal, and 28.3% of the study body is white (Trinity College, 2012; Connecticut State Department of Education, 2010). We chose to focus on Public Safety Academy, because the school has the highest percentage of white students, 35.2% but only 41% of their students met the test goal, meaning that they had the lowest percentage of students at or above the test goal out of these three schools (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2010; Trinity College, 2012).


To determine whether all magnet schools that meet integration have higher test scores, we did research on both Hartford and CREC Magnet Schools. We first used SmartChoices, a website created by The Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College that allows parents in the greater Hartford to sort through schools by racial balance, test goal/gain, and address. Feel free to follow our steps using the SmartChoices link above! We use Public Safety Academy as our example school.


  1. We used Trinity’s address (300 Summit St), clicked show all schools, and clicked only interdistrict schools, because that is what magnet schools fall under. SmartChoices generates a list of schools and displays columns of School, Address, District, Grades, More Info, Racial Balance, Test Goal, and Test Gain. We know that there is a total of 36 magnet schools in the Greater Hartford Region. What we looked for is which magnet schools meet integration and have lower test scores. 

  2. We sorted by Test Goal to see which schools were below the CT average in the Test Goal column.
  3. After this, we focused on the schools that were below the CT average, and also appeared racially balanced. According to Sheff,  schools meeting the integration standard currently have at least 25% white enrollment or more (Sheff Movement, 2008). We found that International Magnet School for Global Citizenship, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy and Public Safety Academy all have lower test scores but meet integration by Sheff’s definition. Many magnet schools were missing either their racial balance, their test goal, or both; therefore, there could be more magnet schools that meet integration and have low test scores.
  4. Once we did this, we narrowed down to focusing on Public Safety Academy, a magnet school run by CREC that consists of grades 6-12. According to SmartChoices, in 2012, 41% of students at Public Safety Academy were at or above the Connecticut test goal, and there was a -4 test gain across grades in 2011 to 2012, meaning that test gain declined 4 percentage points over the past year. In Connecticut, the percentage of students at or above test goal is 65% for the CMT and 50% for the CAPT (Trinity College, 2012). This is shown in the graph below: the dotted line represents the CT average of both the CMT and CAPT together.
  5. Once we chose to focus on Public Safety Academy, we then used the Connecticut Department of Education website to find more detailed data on test scores and racial balance.

Click for Connecticut Data and Research site.

Click for full report.

We took this method because we could look at the racial balance more clearly and also look at the performance of students on the Connecticut standardized tests.


On the Strategic School Report, we found the table below, showing the racial composition for this school. We graphed the numbers to a pie chart for a clearer visual representation. Look at the actual data and numbers on the table, and use the pie chart to help see the racial balance at Public Safety Academy. The diversity represented shows a meeting of the Sheff integration standards.

Looking at test data from Data Interaction, we were able to find details about their test scores. The integration standard was met as shown above. The test scores are less than promising at Public Safety Academy. The percentages of students meeting the goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) fall consistently below state percentages as shown in the three graphs below for grades 6-8 at the Public Safety Academy. The percentages for students meeting state goals in writing are at least 20% lower at Public Safety Academy than for schools across the state. Look at the graphs for Grade 6, 7, and 8 below. Percentages meeting goal drop dramatically from 6th to 7th grade and further drop for 8th graders. While reading percentages improve throughout grades 6-8, the scores still fall under state percentages. Writing improves in Grades 6 and 8 with a drop in Grade 7, but consistently lies under 50%. Science at the Grade 8 level is less than half of the state percentage of students meeting goal. Scores for every subject in each grade level fall below state standards (CMT Data Interaction, 2012).


With the information from SmartChoices and the Strategic School Profile Reports, we found that the Sheff Movement Report is not telling the whole story; while many magnet schools that meet integration have higher test scores, some do not. While Public Safety Academy, International Magnet School for Global Citizenship and Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy meet integration by Sheff Movement’s definition, they do not show the same achievement patterns the Sheff Movement Report shows. The students at all three schools have significantly lower test scores than all Connecticut students and other magnet schools, whether run by CREC or Hartford.

Not all magnet schools that reach integration by Sheff’s definition are high performing. In looking at overall trends as well as focusing on Public Safety Academy, we have attempted to take a broader look at the claims made by the recent Sheff report. Racial integration is a step towards equal education. However, racial integration does not ensure better student achievement or performance. We know that Public Safety Academy is a magnet school where racial integration is not breeding academic success.

Implications: Where do we go from here?

While integration is an important aspect of quality education, it is not a guarantee of higher academic achievement. Looking at Sheff’s goal to integrate city and suburban schools as a starting point, more policies need to be made to close the achievement gap. More understanding needs to happen by looking into the shortcomings of some magnets. Looking at specific student data and some long-term studies on improvements, further improvements could be made outside of the integration aspect in education. Our study was limited in the amount of data available on SmartChoices. Looking at more Strategic School Profiles, a stronger conclusion about schools meeting racial integration with low test scores could be derived. To further this study, an analysis of student grades before and after enrollment to a magnet, or to a specific magnet to note schools that are producing higher scores as well as maintaining racial integration. By looking at data over time at schools and who is applying as well as the student data before and after, we could attempt to explain why racial integration isn’t enough.


“CMT Data Interaction” (2012). Connecticut Mastery Test. Web. 29 Nov. 2012.

Connecticut State Department of Education (2012). “Connecticut Summative Assessment System.” Bureau of Student Assessment.

Connecticut State Department of Education (2010). “Strategic School Profile: International Magnet School for Global Citizenship 2009-2010″in Connecticut Education Data and Research.

Connecticut State Department of Education (2010). “Strategic School Profile: Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy 2009-2010″ in Connecticut Education Data and Research.

Connecticut State Department of Education (2010).”Strategic School Profile: Public Safety Academy 2009-2010.” Connecticut Education Data and Research.

Capital Region Education Council (2012). Photo from “Public Safety Academy” page.

Dougherty, J. (2012). Cities, Suburbs & School Project. Hartford, CT: Trinity College.

Dougherty, J., Wanzer, J., Ramsay, C. (2009) “Sheff v. O’Neill: Weak Desegregation Remedies and Strong Disincentives in Connecticut, 1996-2008” in From the Courtroom to the Classroom, ed. Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, 103-127. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Education Press.

Eaton, S. (2007). The Children of Room E4. North Carolina: Algonquin Press

Sheff Movement (2008). “Hartford Area Magnet School List.” Sheff Movement. Web.

Sheff v O’Neill (2008). Stipulation and Proposed Order, Connecticut Superior Court, April 4, 2008. Available from The Sheff Movement website,

Sheff Movement (2012). “Regional Magnet Schools and Open Choice Post Impressive Achievement Results!”

Sheff Movement (2012). “The Sheff Case Timeline.”

Trinity College. (2012). SmartChoices: Public School Choice.