Vineyard students make good grades in MCAS results, compared to state peers
Vineyard students made a good showing when compared to their peers state-wide, according to MCAS test results released last week from the Massachusetts Department of Education. Results from the spring 2005 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam were released last Wednesday, after a two-day delay resulting from 500 exams that were graded incorrectly.
Sophomores and sixth graders statewide showed some improvements, but performance overall remained flat, according to state education officials.
In looking at the results for Vineyard schools, students scored well in 3rd grade reading, 7th grade English, 8th grade science, and 8th and 10th grade math, but 6th grade math scores showed a need for improvement.
James Weiss, superintendent of the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools, said he was very pleased that West Tisbury's 8th grade students scored the highest in the state on the science and technology tests for the second year in a row, and that high school math scores were also good.
However, he cautioned that parents should not make rash judgments about schools and curriculum based on one test. "Look at the trends over time," he advised.
Figuring out the MCAS
Students in grades three through eight and grade 10 are required to take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test to measure a school's ability to meet state-set standards for students in the subject areas of math, English and science. In the lower grades, the scores are used to make sure students are on track with state curriculum.
In addition to meeting the requirements of the Education Reform Law, the MCAS tests also fulfill the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which requires schools to demonstrate that their students are making academic progress.
Results on the MCAS tests at grade 4 through 10 are reported in performance levels which include advanced, proficient, needs improvement, and warning (grade 3) or failing (grade 10). Students who score in the first three categories pass the test.
In spring of 2006, all students in grades 5 through 8 will be required to take tests in reading and math. By 2014, the NCLB law states that all students will be required to reach proficiency in reading and math, meaning they will have to score 20 points above the needs improvement score, which now sets the bar for passing.
In the meantime, all high school students must pass both math and English exams in order to graduate. In the 2005 MCAS results, 10th graders showed the most improvement statewide. At Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), 95 percent of the 10th grade students passed both the English and math exams, compared to state averages of 89 percent and 85 percent, respectively.
Commenting on the test results last week, Margaret (Peg) Regan, MVRHS principal, said, "The math scores are lovely, due to both the middle school and elementary school teachers, as well as the instructional practices of the high school teachers at the untracked levels."
When she first arrived at the high school in 1999, she said no incoming freshmen qualified for an honors math program. "We went out and purchased textbooks for all 8th graders," she said, and by working with middle school teachers, math scores rose for subsequent high school students.
However, Ms. Regan said, with the latest MCAS test results revealing that 61 percent of special education students scored in the failing or needs improvement categories, language arts are a school-wide concern.
"Many high school teachers are not reading teachers," she said. "We may have to get more training for faculty on teaching reading in a content area." It is not enough to assign a chapter to read in a textbook, she explained, unless students know how to recognize relevant content and retain what they have learned.
Hoping to use the same successful strategy that improved high school math scores by targeting middle school programs, Mrs. Regan said, "We need to work with fourth through tenth graders in reading."
In looking at MCAS scores statewide, tests on which the highest percentage of students performed at the proficient and advanced levels included grade 3 reading, grade 5 science and technology, grade 7 English language arts, grade 10 English language arts and grade 10 math.
Results on the grade 3 reading test are reported in the proficient, needs improvement, and warning categories. There is no way to distinguish between advanced and proficient student performance on the test, because it uses multiple-choice questions. The grade 3 reading scores for Martha's Vineyard schools were above the state average of 62 percent proficient, with the exception of Tisbury School at 60 percent.
In grade 5 science and technology, the state average was 51 percent. Edgartown School and Tisbury School fell below this, at 34 and 45 percent respectively, while West Tisbury's 5th graders scored an impressive 72 percent. The school's 8th graders achieved the highest scores in the state, with 25 percent at the advanced level and 53 percent proficient.
Vineyard school scores for 7th grade English surpassed the state's average of 66 percent, with the exception of Tisbury School at 62 percent. In grade 10 English, the MVRHS scores at 68 percent exceeded the state's average of 64 percent, and in math, 79 percent compared to the state's 61 percent.
Tests on which the highest percentage of students statewide performed at the warning level were grade 8 math, grade 8 science and technology and grade 6 math.
All Vineyard schools scored well below the state average of 31 percent for grade 8 math warning scores. The Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School had the highest number, at 19 percent. For grade 8 science and technology, the highest percent of warning scores was 16 percent for Edgartown School, compared to the state's 26 percent. In grade 6 math, Vineyard schools were well below the state average of 23 percent, although Edgartown School had 31 percent in the warning category. "My concern is about the number of kids in the need improvement and warning categories," said Mr. Weiss. "It is higher than I would like - we're looking at that and finding out what reason is."
In follow-up to their first look at the MCAS scores, Mr. Weiss met with Island principals on Tuesday to begin analyzing the results in terms of trends and possible curriculum changes. "We're continuing to look at them. We made some ‘assignments' to the principals, and they are going to look at specific things," Mr. Weiss said. "We're looking specifically at instructional strategies to help kids do better on the MCAS. Our next meeting will be on Oct. 20, and we hope to develop a plan to move forward Island-wide."