School Committee Hears MCAS Results

Assistant Superintendent Craig Martin gave the school committee a broad review of the spring 2017 MCAS results at its November 6 meeting. Martin began by explaining that the test for science and technology in grades five and eight and all tests in the high school were the original “legacy” MCAS which has been administered for over twenty years. Tests administered in grades three through eight in math and english language arts (ELA) are the first time the the new “next generation” MCAS was used. The new test has a focus on critical thinking abilities, application of knowledge, and readiness for the next grade level. Martin was quick to point out that achievement on the test is simply one indicator of a student’s success in school. He also indicated that new tests were more aligned with current curriculum and is more rigorous than the previous assessment. This test is also a baseline for future years and that there is no state accountability this year as districts are still adapting to the new test.

The first subject area presented was in science and technology, a test only administered to grades five, eight and in the high school. Reading had a higher percentage of students scoring in the Proficient and Advanced categories than the state average in all three grade levels.

ELA scores from grades three through eight and at the high school also showed the same level of achievement. The percentage of students scoring in the Meets Expectations and Exceeds Expectations ranges surpassed the state averages in all grade levels. This was true in math as well. Concern was raised over grades five and eight, where the scores were just barely above the state averages, and the percentages in the two highest categories were lower than the other grades. Martin suggested that there could be any number of reasons for this, including the possibility that these are the transition grades and more challenging topics and skills are assessed. Grade seven scores were much higher than other grades in both math and ELA. Scores in the high school also exceeded state averages, including an impressive 66 percent scoring in the advanced range in math.

Martin also presented information tracking scores in the higher needs demographic. Reading students had a much higher percentage of higher need students in the Meets Expectations and Exceeds Expectations in all areas assessed than the state averages, with only grade four being a slight concern. Martin also pointed out the need to reduce the achievement gap across the district for students with higher needs.

The growth percentage, which measures a student’s progress against students across the state who scored similarly last year, fell in the expected growth range for all grades in ELA. Martin did note that grade eight fell on the lower end of that scale. Growth percentages in math at all grade levels were all well into the expected growth ranges as well. Martin then highlighted the steps the district will be taking to analyze the data and apply what has been learned including collaborating with other districts for best practices and looking for better collaboration of the curricula to current standards.

The committee also received a special education update from Director of Student Services Carolyn Wilson. She reported that the Office for Civil Rights agreement was submitted and they are awaiting final approvals for the steps that have been taken to alleviate the concerns. Wilson also informed the committee of several open positions in the district, where the work is being covered by contractors at a greater level of expense until the positions are filled. There was also a discussion about changes being made to the way funds from some federal grants need to be managed when it comes to students attending private schools located in town.

The committee approved a request for an additional $85,000 from Town Meeting for wireless technology upgrades as the new computer systems being purchased are incompatible with the antiquated wireless technology currently in the schools. Some of this technology is needed to administer the new MCAS tests.

The meeting adjourned at 9:50pm.

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