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Test scores show district improvements, areas for growth

Date: 10/9/2015

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Spring 2015 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores were released on Sept. 24, and Westfield, West Springfield and Agawam public schools saw ups and downs.

Westfield public schools overall saw increases in the number of proficient and advanced scores throughout the district, as well as decreases in needs improvement and failing.

Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion said she was thrilled with the results.

“We are seeing progress in places we had hoped to see progress, areas we had been working toward. We see the work ahead,” she said.

The grade 10 English language arts scores, since 2012, have steadily increased in advanced, which Scallion said was “beautiful” to see. Only 10 percent of students scored a needs improvement or failing in the English Language Arts test.

Though Scallion said she was happy with the high school scores, she was even more impressed with the elementary school level. The third grade students is the first class to have been “brought up on new standards,” and for the first time, they scored above state level, she said.

“Math is very strong. In literacy, we’re building a very solid foundation,” Scallion said. “I’m sure we will see strong literacy in MCAS in years to come because of what we’ve built up there.”

The Westfield district uses the data to adjust teaching approaches, and Scallion said this has helped the district overall to assist and challenge students.

Through this, Scallion said, the district has had few students being referred to special education because teachers and staff can identify students sooner and work to catch them up.

The Westfield student population living in poverty has increased, which makes the success of the scores even more impressive, Scallion said.

“You would expect that there would be an impact on test scores in a negative direction because we know that kids living in poverty have learning challenges. We have one or two parents that are working hard to keep food on the table and all kinds of stresses that contemporary parents live with,” Scallion said. “They come with less of a word bank. It’s significant to see our tests scores going up at a time where our students are getting needier. It’s a testament to the teachers, coaches and intervention programs we have in place and the commitment by the city.”

Scallion pointed specifically to the work done at Franklin Avenue Elementary School, South Middle School and Westfield Technical Academy for their improvements.

“I’m very proud of the hard work that the team has made that includes support of the School Committee, the taxpayer support, the hard work of the teachers, coaches and curriculum direction,” Scallion said. “People have worked really hard, most of all the students. They’re the ones benefitting from these efforts.”

Agawam Superintendent Bill Sapelli also said he was pleased with his district’s results, especially English language arts. Math, he said, “We could shore up a little bit.”

Across the board, the district remained consistent, with some significant jumps from 2014 to 2015 in grade 10 English and grade 8 Math.

While 50 percent of students scored advanced in grade 10 math, 22 percent scored either needs improvement or failed.

“Math is always difficult,” Sapelli said. “A lot of people were skeptical when it had to be a graduation requirement, but it’s worked. People are working harder and taking it more seriously.”

Like Westfield, Agawam has been using the data and specific questions to adjust teaching strategies and how they cover and review material before the tests.

The district is currently Level 2, and Sapelli said he hopes to be Level 1 soon.

“It’s difficult to maintain [Level 2 status] year in and year out. We have eight schools. If any one school is Level 3, your district is Level 3,” he said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

While the Westfield and Agawam districts both elected to use MCAS throughout, West Springfield used Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing for the elementary school and middle school students. Only Grade 10 was tested in MCAS.

Superintendent Michael Richard said that though the district is waiting for the PARCC scores from the state, West Springfield schools will be held harmless for the testing. West Springfield, a Level 3 district, cannot suffer in its ranking for the PARCC results, but it can go up.

“We hope it results in upward movement. It’s certainly not going to result in downward movement … I think we certainly are of the growth mindset and focused on constant improvement,” Richard said.

Despite the “incomplete data,” Richard said he was pleased with

In English language arts, 85 percent of students scored proficient or advanced and 77 percent scored the same in Math.

Richard said he thought the increases were a “good indicator that we’re seeing some additional rigor in the classroom,” but there is still work to be done.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t make all the gains that we wanted. The number of students in math that continue to struggle is disheartening,” Richard said. “The work is great, and we can see the upward trends across the district. It’s a positive day for us, not everything we wanted, but we feel the district continues to move in the right direction.”