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Holyoke schools are catching up to state MCAS scores

Date: 10/3/2014

HOLYOKE – Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sergio Páez is blunt in his assessment of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) results for Holyoke schools.

“Holyoke is doing okay, but not doing great. We’re shy of where we wanted to be,” he told Reminder Publications.
Páez added, “We’re catching up to the state, but not catching up fast enough.”
He said the Holyoke students did better in every grade but there is a performance gap. He said it was decreased seven points last year but increased two points this years.
He noted that no school in Holyoke changed its assessment, unlike three schools in Springfield that were downgraded to Level 4.
“That’s good news in sense,” he said.
Páez said, that since he was appointed he has been “developing all kinds of initiatives to ensure the progress of rigor in the classroom is significant.”
The Year 4 (2014-2015) Accelerated Improvement Plan for the schools noted, “Although the district made significant investments in laying a foundation for effective instruction in literacy in Student Year13-14 (i.e., developing new curriculum, setting up structures for teacher learning, collaboration, and coaching), the changes did not occur early enough in the year and have not yet translated to meaningful change at the student level.  The results from the last four years demonstrate the urgent need to ensure that classroom practice improve in the coming year.”
On the improvement in math seen in the district the plan reported, “Between 2011 and 2013, the district made a slight gain in math scores for all students.  During a period in which the state CPI score in math increased by almost 1 point, the district’s overall score increased by two points, ELL (English Language Learners) students increased by 3.2 points, and students with disabilities increased by 1 point; as a result, the gap between the district and the state closed slightly, although the progress will not be sufficient in terms of meeting longer-term student achievement goals.”
Addressing the need for specific plans for certain subgroups of students, the plan noted, “The data from previous years shows that significant gaps exist between the district’s largest subgroups – ELLs and students with disabilities – and the student population as a whole, indicating that the district needs to focus on defining effective instructional strategies for these students.  Since 90 percent of the Holyoke student population is considered ‘high needs,’ the district plans to explicitly target all core instruction towards raising the achievement of ELLs and students with disabilities; for example, strategies that have proven effective for ELLs (e.g., explicit vocabulary instruction, student discourse) will be a focus of daily instruction.”
One key effort is the city’s early literacy campaign that seeks to eliminates the reading gap in children from age two to right. Páez said that if children can read at grade level by the third grade, they have an 89 percent chance of graduating from high school.
Where educators see a problem with students who can’t read at grade level is at ninth grade.
“The exodus of kids in ninth grade is significant,” Páez said.
Current Holyoke has a graduation rate of 52 percent, which Páez said “is probably the lowest in the state.”
Páez said that one new program invites students back who did not complete high school to participate in a computer-based course of study that will allow them to finish their degrees.