Martha’s Vineyard schools struggle with MCAS progress targets

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.
File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

Student performance in Martha’s Vineyard schools continues to improve, according to the 2011 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam results, but the results also show that the 2011 test year was the first in which many schools failed to meet the state’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets in at least one subject area.

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. State education officials and Gov. Deval Patrick released the results on Tuesday.

“First, the truly important thing is how can we better support our students as they take these tests and the demands on them continue to increase,” Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) superintendent James Weiss wrote to The Times in response to an email Tuesday seeking comment. “Overall, the Vineyard continues to have rising advanced and proficient percentages, and all schools continue to have ratings of high or very high.”

Despite disappointments about ever-more-difficult AYP targets, assistant superintendent Laurie Halt, who oversees curriculum and instruction, noted that many grade levels in Island schools demonstrated top rankings in MCAS scores. Although the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not rank schools or districts by MCAS scores, rankings may be determined using data available on its website and from sources such as the Boston Globe, which analyzes the highest performing schools and districts annually.

Standout scores

Among the 2011 highlights, Ms. Halt noted that West Tisbury School eighth-graders ranked first in the state for the percentage of students with scores of advanced and proficient in science for the second year in a row. Fifth-grade special education students demonstrated the highest performance level in the state at 94.2 percent, and eighth-grade special education students at 98.3 percent on ELA tests.

Tisbury School fourth-graders earned the highest performance rating in the state for ELA at 99.4 percent. Oak Bluffs fourth-graders demonstrated the highest median student growth percentile in the state for ELA, at 92 percent.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) director Bob Moore also responded to an email request from The Times for comment on Tuesday.

“The Charter School is pleased with its continued positive results in English Language Arts throughout the grades and will continue to monitor the results and teaching strategies in the classroom,” Mr. Moore wrote.

“The Math results in grades 7-10 indicate that 77 percent of the students scored proficient or advanced on the 2011 tests,” he added. “We are pleased with the progress seen over the years in the middle school and high school results.”

The Charter School’s tenth graders earned a top ranking in ELA this year, with 100 percent of them scoring advanced and proficient.

AYP a moving target

MCAS scores are used to figure a school’s AYP. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires all schools and districts to meet or exceed specific student performance standards in ELA and mathematics by the year 2014. The standard for meeting AYP is raised each year, making the federal target more difficult to attain.

“We were disappointed but not surprised by the AYP determinations this year,” Mr. Weiss said. “The number of schools across the Commonwealth that did not make AYP has grown significantly due in part to the increases in target scores as we approach 2014, when everyone must be proficient.”

According to a press release Tuesday from Governor Deval Patrick’s office, 1,404 schools (82 percent) and 354 districts (91 percent) did not make AYP in 2011, up from 1,141 schools (67 percent) and 316 districts (79 percent) in 2010.

The target percentage for students scoring “proficient” in ELA was upped from 90.2 percent in 2010 to 95.1 percent this year, and in math from 84.3 percent last year to 92.2 percent this year, Mr. Weiss pointed out.

“The schools’ performance ratings were high, overall,” Ms. Halt said in a phone conversation yesterday. “We also look at student growth and unfortunately individual student growth percentiles don’t figure into AYP at all.”

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 is the first year that most Vineyard schools did not make AYP in at least one area, with the exception of Oak Bluffs, where this is not the first year, and that school earned a status designation,” Mr. Weiss said.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was the only Island school that met AYP targets in ELA and math this year.

Although the Charter School met AYP in ELA, Mr. Moore said, “This is the first time in the last five years the school did not meet AYP in Mathematics.”

What comes next

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. All of the Martha’s Vineyard schools, with the exception of Oak Bluffs School, received a “No Status” NCLB accountability designation, which includes ratings for performance and improvement.

Oak Bluffs School received a “corrective action” status and “improvement year 1″ status for subgroups in math.

Schools and districts that are identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring are required to take steps to focus efforts on improving student performance.

School administrators said they have already started the process of putting MCAS results to good use.

“AYP is only one measure, and a measure that compares one group of students in a grade with a distinctly different group of students in that grade the next year,” Mr. Weiss said. “It is a gross measure, and we will drill down and analyze the scores of groups and individual students in order to see patterns and work to assist students in the future.”

At the Charter School, Mr. Moore said the staff and faculty has taken steps to address the 2011 math results, including a school-wide initiative on mathematics. “An analysis of the curriculum areas that require the school’s attention has begun and will continue throughout the year,” he said.

Additional MCAS results for Martha’s Vineyard schools are available online at mvtimes.com and complete statewide results at http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/mcas.aspx.