Local districts continue strong MCAS performances
By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Local school officials are pleased overall with the latest round of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test scores, but none more so than Longmeadow Public Schools.
Longmeadow 10th grade students tied for fourth in the state in English language arts with (ELA) and eighth in math with 97 percent of students placing proficient or higher in ELA and 92 percent reaching that level in math.
“We’re very excited with the way our 10th graders performed,” Longmeadow Superintendent Marie Doyle said. “The culmination of the students’ academic career here is important to us, so we really focus on how well they do in high school and we’re really quite pleased with the results.”
High school sophomores “blew the test out of the water” in math with 72 percent of students scoring advanced, she added. The state average was 55 percent.
“That’s phenomenal,” Doyle said.
The high school’s results, as high as they were, were actually a slight drop off from 2012 in which 99 percent of students were proficient or above in ELA and 93 percent reached those scores in math, however, Doyle said it was still an outstanding effort by the students.
District-wide composite performance index (CPI) scores were 93.7 in ELA, 91.4 in math and 90.1 in science and technology. CPI is determined by assigning scores of 100, 75, 50, 25, or 0 points to each student who takes the test, adding those numbers together, then dividing that sum by the total number of students tested.
“Last year’s scores were so high, we weren’t sure we could get much better,” Doyle said. “Last year, not a single student failed the English or math tests, so when you have such high results as that, it’s hard to repeat it, but the high school students managed to come out with outstanding scores again.”
Doyle said the high performance in the high school is representative of the district’s success at all levels.
“The state has what’s called a student growth model, which looks at student achievement, but also improvement over the last year,” she said. “The level you want to be at is ‘high achievement/high improvement’ and Longmeadow was in that quadrant across the board. So I’m most proud that students are still learning at a higher level every single year and they are continuing to gain in rankings in achievement.”
Doyle said the district wide achievement of the students also showed the district’s ability to serve all learners.
“We’re an inclusive district, so we believe in keeping children with all kinds of learning disabilities and special needs here, so it’s particularly noteworthy that Longmeadow is ranked as high as we are because it shows we are educating all students,” she said.
Doyle said the district has identified some challenges and opportunities at the lower grades, specifically in ELA at the elementary level.
“What we’re focusing on is the elementary,” she said. “In the past three years, we’ve engaged in a literacy initiative and we’re working on readers’ and writers’ workshops. We’ve also implemented the BAS [Benchmark Assessment System] to monitor students’ reading achievement on an ongoing basis. So we’re optimistic we’re going to see higher scores in the elementary grades over the next few years.”
Doyle said the district is also in the process of altering its math curriculum to better serve its students as a result of recent test results
“We see better growth at the higher grade levels and we have changed our math program at the elementary school,” she said. “In the middle schools, we also just bought a new text book and changed the curriculum to fit the Common Core and we’re actually going to be doing some online learning.”
While there are challenges, Assistant Superintendent for Learning Kelley Gangi said there have been gains at the lower grades.
“For example, in fourth grade math, we were able to move more children from proficient to advanced,” she said, explaining that 17 percent of students placed advanced, while in 2013, 22 percent were in that category. “For us, pushing those students who are ready beyond proficiency is important.”
East Longmeadow Public Schools also performed well in 2013.
While East Longmeadow Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith said his leadership team was still going through the data, the district-wide CPI in ELA was 91.3, while scores in math and science were 82.2 and 82.5, respectively.
“One thing we already know is that we continue to be a district that across the board is achieving at a very high level,” he said. “Now we’re going to start analyzing the data to see where we’ve had more specific success and some of the things that jump out of us.”
He said a breakdown of the results would be presented at the next East Longmeadow School Committee meeting on Oct. 7.
Smith said he was pleased with the high school’s results, which showed 92 percent of students placing proficient or higher in ELA (ninth in the state) and 84 percent proficient or higher in math (16th).
“Our high school continues to have very high standards and has done a very good job in maintaining consistency,” he said.
Another aspect that Smith said struck him was the shift in achievement in some of the subgroups, which include low-income students, English language learners and special needs students.
“Our subgroups made some significant gains,” he said. “Our low-income students specifically showed pretty good improvement in the ELA exam both in the fact that more students scored in advance and fewer scored in the warning and failing category across the district,”
Smith said he would like to see the district focus on bringing the math scores up closer to the level of the ELA scores.
Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) 10th graders continued the trend of local high school students performing well on the MCAS test, placing even higher than Longmeadow in ELA with 98 percent of students scoring proficient or higher, good for third-place statewide. Eighty-four percent placed in that category in math, good for 13th in the state.
Across the district, students recorded a CPI of 91.3 in ELA, 82.2 in math and 82.5 in science.
The latest exam marked the first time the MCAS test was aligned with Common Core standards, which drew mixed reactions from educators.
Smith said East Longmeadow had been aligning its curriculum with the Common Core standards and therefore, he felt it did not have a significant effect on the students’ ability to take the test successfully.
Doyle, however, felt it did put both test takers and educators in a difficult position.
“Common Core was used in this year’s testing, but many people did not have time to change their curriculum, so I think we’ve seen a drop in elementary schools across the board because there is a significant difference between Common Core and the current curriculum,” Doyle said. “It would have been more appropriate for the state to wait and change the test until everyone had the time to realign their curriculum as it does impact what students know and don’t know on the test. It’s unfair to the students and teachers to test them on something they haven’t learned yet.” HWRSD Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.