Vineyard students gain in MCAS results
Martha's Vineyard schools continued to show improvement in several subject areas, according to results from the spring 2006 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. Scores for grades three through eight were released last week by the state Department of Education (DOE).
Island students surpassed the state averages in third grade reading, fourth grade math, fifth grade English and science, sixth grade English, seventh grade math, and eighth grade English, math, and science.
Fifth grade and sixth grade math proved the weak spots for Edgartown School, with about one-third of the students in both grades failing the test, and third grade scores were below the state average.
"We have had a little time to look, not a lot, but are pleased overall with the results from all of the Island schools," Martha's Vineyard schools superintendent James Weiss said Monday. "Clearly, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury did very well in just about every area. We have a few concerns about math in some grades in Edgartown, which [principal] Paul Dulac and his staff are looking at addressing by adjusting the curriculum," Mr. Weiss said.
In addition to declining math scores, Edgartown School's fourth grade and seventh grade English scores also were down this year. However, 99 percent of eighth graders passed the English test. Fifth grade science scores rose from 88 percent passing last year to 95 percent this year and eighth grade science from 84 percent last year to 90 percent this year. Mr. Dulac said he and the faculty have been working on revising the curriculum since they received the raw MCAS test scores six to eight weeks ago.
Edgartown School uses a different math program than the other Island schools, Mr. Dulac said. "We're filling in holes where our math program is weak, such as fractions for grades five and six, where it doesn't match up with MCAS scores," he explained. "We're working in teams and looking at individual students' scores, so we can prescribe instruction for each student in areas in which they need help."
In addition, this year all Edgartown School students engage in non-fiction writing. "We're in a very good position now to react to the data and improve, particularly in the areas of math and writing," Mr. Dulac said. "In the past we had our own curriculum, so we just have to turn some things around so that the state frameworks will become more of a focus in our curriculum area. I'm very confident our kids can get it done."
At Oak Bluffs School, sixth graders made significant jumps in math scores, up from 84 percent passing last year to 97 percent this year, while seventh graders took the lead in math scores among the Island schools. Although the school's fourth grade English and math scores fell slightly from last year, 100 percent of Oak Bluffs students passed the sixth and seventh grade English tests.
Oak Bluffs School principal Laury Binney said teachers have been incorporating more non-fiction reading into the curriculum, which helps build test-taking skills. He and the faculty also focused last year specifically on math terminology.
"We have been looking at the vocabulary of our math program and making sure the vernacular we use in everyday instruction matches what is going to be asked of them when they take the test in May," Mr. Binney said. "There are so many variables that go into why a school does well, but the most important one is just good teaching. I'm really proud of the folks here because they work so hard at it."
In a press release issued by the DOE in late September, state education commissioner David P. Driscoll expressed concern about flat or declining MCAS scores in English in grades 3, 4, and 7, and in math in grades 4, 6, and 8 in schools across the state. Some of the Vineyard schools' scores mirrored that trend in fourth grade English and math, sixth grade math, seventh grade English, and eighth grade math.
Statewide MCAS results showed that student performance in English language arts continued to exceed their math performance. The same is true on the Vineyard.
One hundred percent of Tisbury School, Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS), and Oak Bluffs School seventh graders passed the English test this year. Fifth grade and sixth grade English scores were in the 90 to 100 percent range for all of the Island schools.
At the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, all 15 eighth-graders not only passed the English test but also scored in the advanced or proficient categories. Oak Bluffs School students also performed well, with 94 percent advanced or proficient scores.
In other significant results from Island schools, Tisbury School showed an increase in advanced and proficient scores in third grade reading from 60 percent last year to 77 percent this year. Seventh-grade English scores jumped from 87 percent passing last year to 100 percent this year, while 100 percent of the school's fourth graders passed the English tests for the second year running.
MVPCS students who took exams in fourth grade math and English, fifth grade English, fifth grade math and science, sixth grade English, seventh grade English, and eighth grade English all passed, with no one scoring in the warning category. The same was true for West Tisbury students on tests in third grade reading, fifth grade English and science, and eighth grade science.
Mr. Weiss said the relevance of MCAS scores is most important in analyzing long-term trends. "In just about every case, we're ahead of the state and have shown significant growth over time," he said. "This was the first year that both English language arts and math tests were given to students in grades three through eight, and this is in a sense a baseline for us to look towards the future."
The nuts and bolts of MCAS
Students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 are required to take the MCAS tests to measure a school's ability to meet state-set standards in reading, math, English, and science. In the lower grades, the scores are used to make sure students are on track with state curriculum. High school students must pass tests in math and English language arts in order to graduate.
In addition to meeting the requirements of the state's education reform law of 1993, the MCAS tests fulfill the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which requires schools to demonstrate that students are making academic progress. A school that fails to show adequate yearly progress (AYP) is put on notice by the state to make improvements.
In spring 2006, Massachusetts added six new MCAS tests to comply with NCLB requirements. These included English language arts in grades 5, 6, and 8, and math in grades 3, 5 and 7, bringing the total to 16 for students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10.
Results on the MCAS tests are reported in performance levels which include advanced, proficient, needs improvement, and warning (grades 3-8) or failing (grade 10). An advanced performance level for grade three reading was added this year to meet NCLB requirements.
Results for schools with fewer than 10 students taking the MCAS tests, such as Chilmark School, are not reported.