Making the most out of MCAS results
Once MCAS scores are released, the real work begins for administrators and teachers in fine-tuning instruction based on the results.
"No Child Left Behind has gotten such a negative connotation," assistant superintendent Laurie Halt said in an interview last week. "But if we do it right, we're really helping struggling students by targeting our interventions and strategies to meet their needs so that they'll be successful."
After receiving MCAS results, Ms. Halt creates 35 templates, one for each grade level and test, which teachers use to review and analyze by question, teaching standards, and student subgroup performance.
"We have done this the last two years, and this year the analysis will be more directed and targeted," Ms. Halt said. "We have a lot more ability to manipulate the data now."
For example, teachers can look at which group of students had the most success, which had the least success, and which questions were missed the most.
"We are also tracking students by groups and cohorts, or classes, to measure their performance over time," Ms. Halt said.
In October the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will introduce a student growth model that will track individual progress.
"We're not looking at MCAS scores in isolation," she added. School teams are looking at the results, as well as teachers across Martha's Vineyard by grade level, and the information is shared, Ms. Halt said.
It also is made available to parents. In November a report on the 2009 MCAS results will be posted on the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) website, mvyps.org, under the link "curriculum and instruction" on the superintendent's home page.
Ms. Halt said another very valuable tool for school administrators is an education data warehouse on the DESE website that makes it possible to manipulate MCAS data to compare any combination of groups, subgroups, or students.
The public school system also subscribes to TestWiz.net, an online tool for analyzing MCAS and other assessment results provided by DESE to Massachusetts schools. It provides a valuable resource for teachers, who may look at how a student did on a particular question, or look at class results and organize students by their performance in order to do remedial work.
"We do have the tools to help differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students," Ms. Halt said.
Recently the public school system purchased a subscription to Study Island for students in grades 6 to 8 and grade 10 English, math and science. The program's activities, worksheets, tests, and interactive games are aligned with the Massachusetts educational frameworks.
Students can access Study Island in their school's computer lab or library, their town library or on their home computers. Teachers also may use the program in the classroom.
Every time a student logs on and completes an activity, whether it's a game or a test, a teacher may view performance results.
"It's fun, and it's teaching right to the frameworks, and it provides an opportunity for remedial help," Ms. Halt said.
MVPS also has registered all teachers for free access to an online network that provides curriculum tools, such as lesson plans, based on state teaching standards.
Despite what some people may think about MCAS, Ms. Halt said, "It's not about teaching to the test, it's teaching to the standards. And it's not about stopping everything for a six-week MCAS review. It's about having a really carefully planned curriculum that teaches to the standards in a way that's exciting and integrated and engaging."