Island Schools hit MCAS improvement targets

Island students performed well above the state average and continued to improve their scores on the 2010 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams. State education officials and Governor Deval Patrick released the results at 2 pm Tuesday.

“I am very pleased with the bulk of the MCAS scores for the Island’s schools; however, we all need to remember that MCAS is only one measure of progress for students and for schools,” superintendent of schools James Weiss wrote in response to an email from The Times asking for comment on Tuesday.

“Working with assistant superintendent Laurie Halt, the individual school principals and their staffs will now analyze the data and make adjustments in our instruction grade by grade and student by student,” Mr. Weiss continued. “Generally, English language arts scores tend to be a little stronger than mathematics scores. Island schools were typically ahead of the state in most areas with some very strong growth numbers over last year’s results.”

MCAS exams are the state’s standards-based student assessment program. Last spring, 17 tests in English language arts (ELA), math, science and technology/engineering were administered to students statewide across eight grade levels.

“We did incredibly well,” Ms. Halt told The Times in a phone call Tuesday. “The aggregates at each school made AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] and performed well above the state average, earning high or very high performance ratings.”

Since school administrators received MCAS results before the public, Ms. Halt, who oversees curriculum and instruction, had already prepared a preliminary written summary of how Island schools performed.

As she explained, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires all schools and districts to meet or exceed specific student performance standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics by the year 2014.

To make AYP, school districts and schools must meet a student participation requirement, an additional attendance or graduation requirement, and either the state’s performance target for a subject area or the district’s, school’s, or student group’s own 2010 improvement target. The standard for meeting AYP is raised each year, making the federal target more difficult to attain.

State and local results

The number of tenth-graders statewide scoring proficient or higher on MCAS ELA and math exams has nearly doubled since 2001, according to an announcement by state education officials and Governor Patrick on Tuesday.

For the first time, more than half of all seventh and eighth graders statewide scored proficient or higher in math. At the high school level, however, ELA and math scores remained flat statewide and 35 percent of students scored below proficient in science.

Among Island schools, the Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury elementary schools earned very high performance ratings in English Language Arts (ELA) on the 2010 MCAS exams, as did Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS). The regional high school and West Tisbury and Chilmark Schools earned very high performance ratings and the Charter School a high performance rating for math.

West Tisbury School stood out as number one on a list of the state’s highest performing schools in science among rankings in a Boston Globe article about MCAS results yesterday.

At the Charter School, director Robert Moore said he and the faculty were pleased with their students’ scores, and are looking at areas in which they need to focus to continue the upward trend. “And more specifically, we’re so pleased about how our math scores have been going up over the past five to six years,” Mr. Moore said. “Another thing we’re proud about is that we’ve met our AYP objectives each of the last five years in all of the groups and subgroups, which has really set a good foundation for us.”

Ms. Halt said every Island school was on target with improvement, with the exception of the high school and Oak Bluffs School, which received “no change” improvement ratings for ELA and math, respectively.

MCAS scores are used to figure a school’s AYP. There are multiple AYP determinations, one for the aggregate and others for student subgroups. The measure of whether or not a school or district achieves AYP is determined by both aggregate and subgroup scores.

The aggregate, meaning the total number of students who took the MCAS tests, is counted if there are at least 20 students. Subgroups consist of five percent of the number of students who took the tests in categories such as special education, limited English proficiency, race/ethnicity, and low income, which is determined by eligibility for free and reduced lunches. Sometimes it takes only a few students for a school not to achieve AYP.

This year 57 percent of Massachusetts schools failed to meet federal NCLB benchmarks for annual increases in state standardized test scores.

“No Status” is a good status

Schools that make AYP in a subject for all student groups for two or more consecutive years are assigned to the positive “No Status” category, Ms. Halt explained. All of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, with the exception of Oak Bluffs School in ELA, received a “No Status” NCLB accountability designation, which includes ratings for performance and improvement.

“While Oak Bluffs School made AYP in ELA this year, we received improvement year two status because we did not make AYP in all the subgroups in ELA in 2009,” Ms. Halt said. Schools have to make AYP in a subject for all student groups for two or more consecutive years.

Oak Bluffs School was identified as a district in need of improvement in 2008 because target progress goals in ELA were not met for the special education and low income subgroups. Also, the special education subgroup did not meet target AYP goals in math.

In 2009, Oak Bluffs School shed its AYP “needs improvement” status in ELA for the special education subgroup and in math for the low-income subgroup.

The special education and low income subgroups at Oak Bluffs School did meet improvement targets this year for ELA, although they did not meet performance targets. The two subgroups did not meet AYP for math.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a problem for us this year, but what it does mean is that we have to make sure that doesn’t happen for another year,” Ms. Halt said. “Oak Bluffs School is looking, for example, at getting a math specialist to do remediation work. They spent so much energy on ELA and made the improvements in ELA, so now we just have to focus on math.”

Last year at Edgartown School, special education and low-income subgroups did not make AYP in math and ELA. To address the issue, principal John Stevens said students in those subgroups would be assigned to the caseloads of four remedial teachers, two in math and two in reading. This year, Edgartown School achieved AYP for the aggregate and all subgroups in ELA and math.

At the regional high school, the aggregate did not meet an ELA improvement target for 2010, with a negative 0.5 percent change from last year. Targets were met, however, in participation, performance, and graduation rate, to achieve AYP in ELA for 2010. The high school received an “on target” improvement rating for math.

“We made AYP, and know that it’s because of all the hard work done by the kids and the staff,” MVRHS principal Steven Nixon said Tuesday in a phone call. “Our kids did a great job as usual, and we’re very happy and very pleased.”

What’s next

In looking at MCAS scores, teachers and administrators caution that comparing them from year to year doesn’t give an accurate picture, because this year’s third-graders, for example, are not the same third-graders tested last year.

Ms. Halt said comparing MCAS scores among cohorts, or groups of students in the same class, over time, is more valuable. As an example, she pointed out that Edgartown School’s current sixth-graders made a great leap from their fourth grade ELA scores, advancing from 72 percent advanced and proficient to 91 percent when they were tested last spring as fifth graders.

In October 2009 ESE introduced a student growth model to track individual progress. The growth model complements the MCAS year-by-year test scores, since it reports change over time rather than grade-level performance results in any one year.

As a next step Ms. Halt said she would use the new 2010 MCAS scores to create templates, one for each grade level and test, for teachers to use to review and analyze the results by question, teaching standards, and student subgroup performance. Teachers also will look at which group of students had the most success, which had the least success, and which MCAS questions were missed the most. The wealth of data available helps them determine the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and the education program, Ms. Halt said.

The Charter School also will analyze all of its MCAS results by test and subgroup, Mr. Moore said.

Next year MCAS will undoubtedly change, since the board of ESE agreed to swap the state’s MCAS standards for national benchmarks in July, with support from Governor Patrick.

The decision came under fire from some educators and politicians, who said adopting the less stringent federal Common Core standards would be a step down from the state’s existing MCAS standards.

However, Ms. Halt said Massachusetts would be allowed to “manipulate” 15 percent of the Common Core standards on a state level.

Oak Bluffs School teacher Megan Ferrell is serving on one of the state committees that meets in Boston to work on the new standards.