MCAS scores disclose some problem areas
Preliminary 2008 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results released last Friday from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) show most Island public schools met performance and improvement targets. For the first time, however, Oak Bluffs School has been identified as a district in need of improvement because target progress goals in English language arts and math were not met by some groups of students.
Fifty percent of all Massachusetts public schools have been identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under the federal accountability system, based on student performance on the 2008 MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] English and math exams, according to a press release from DESE that accompanied the AYP results.
"We do not take the accountability status of any school or district lightly, but we also do not consider the schools to be failures," Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester stated in the press release.
The nuts and bolts of AYP
Assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Laurie Halt provided a detailed presentation about AYP results and what they mean for Martha's Vineyard Public Schools at an All-Island School Committee (AISC) meeting Monday night.
As Ms. Halt explained, AYP measures progress towards meeting federally required annual performance targets in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations. The federal NCLB law sets 2014 as the year by which all students in public schools must achieve proficiency in ELA and math.
However, Ms. Halt pointed out, it is left to each state to determine what proficiency means. Massachusetts has set one of the highest bars - and the federal accountability system raises it each year. For example, the state's target AYP goal in math jumped from 68.7 points in the 2006-07 school year to 76.5 in the 2007-08 school year.
"The predictions are that we're going to be here talking about a different school every year," Ms. Halt said. "It only takes a few students for a school not to make AYP. What concerns me is how it's reported - it's not about 'failing.' We have to be careful about the rhetoric - I like 'did not make adequate yearly progress,' not 'failed.'"
The state has divided the years leading up to 2014 into two-year cycles. "For two years, the target goal is on a level playing field, and then it jumps up - next year it will jump again," Ms. Halt said. "Realistically, many schools won't make AYP."
AYP is determined by both aggregate and subgroup scores. The aggregate, 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.
AYP is calculated by four factors, including participation, performance, improvement, and attendance for grades one through eight and graduation rates for high schools.
The participation factor required that at least 95 percent of a school's students participated in the 2008 MCAS exams. Performance ratings were tied to whether a student group performed at or above the 2008 state performance target. Improvement ratings indicate whether a student group met its own 2008 improvement target.
How Island schools measure up
Schools that meet AYP performance and improvement targets receive a "no status" designation, meaning they do not have to revise their School Improvement Plan (SIP). Chilmark School, Edgartown School, Tisbury School, West Tisbury School, and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School received a "no status" AYP rating for ELA and math. All of Martha's Vineyard's public schools achieved "very high" and "high" in performance ratings in both content areas.
Oak Bluffs School received an "improvement" status for ELA. Despite achieving a "very high" performance rating in ELA, the school's improvement rating was "no change." Oak Bluffs School achieved AYP ELA target goals for the aggregate, but fell short for the second year in a row for meeting goals for the special education and low-income subgroups.
Although West Tisbury School did not achieve AYP in the special education subgroup for ELA last year, the school's aggregate and subgroup scores were on target this year, resulting in a "no status" designation.
In mathematics, Oak Bluffs School achieved "no status" for math and a "high" performance rating. However, while the aggregate and low-income subgroup scores met target AYP goals in math, the special education subgroup did not.
The regional high school achieved "very high" as a performance rating in ELA and "declined" as an improvement rating. Although the school's aggregate ELA score met AYP goals, the special education subgroup did not.
In math, the high school achieved a performance rating of "very high" and an improvement rating of "on target," and met AYP goals for the aggregate and special education subgroup.
Chilmark School's improvement rating was classified as "declined." Tisbury School achieved improvement ratings of "on target" and performance ratings of "very high" in both ELA and math. However, the school's low-income subgroup did not reach target AYP goals in either subject.
Ms. Halt said Oak Bluffs School's designation as needing improvement requires revising the school's improvement plan, addressing specific subjects, grade levels, and student groups that did not make AYP, and developing a written plan in three months.
The consequences of not achieving AYP increase with each succeeding year, with the most severe after five consecutive years, at which time schools move into "restructuring" and may be put under state oversight.
Complying with NCLB regulations that result in unfunded mandates means that the school system might have to reallocate resources in order to meet the needs of all students, Ms. Halt said.
To that end, the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools will continue to analyze MCAS data very carefully and focus on creating professional learning communities among teachers and schools.
In a phone call yesterday, assistant director Claudia Ewing said Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School achieved AYP in both ELA and math. The charter school's performance rating is "very high" in ELA and "high" in math. Aggregate and subgroups reached target AYP scores in both test areas, as well, Ms. Ewing said.
The 2008 MCAS scores were released yesterday, which are detailed on Page 8. More information about the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools and MCAS scores may be found on the website www.mvyps.org under curriculum and instruction.