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State says Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter must improve student performance in math by 2014

On Tuesday the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education imposed three new conditions on PVPA’s charter regarding student performance in math. The board was acting on a recommendation from Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester.

The conditions, according to a motion adopted by the board, require the school to:

■ submit by March 31 a comprehensive evaluation of its math program conducted by an outside consultant;

■ submit an action plan by May 15 that “specifies strategies to improve mathematics performance,” including a timetable and improvement benchmarks; and

■ provide evidence of “substantial progress” toward meeting academic success goals, in particular “significant and sustained academic improvement in math,” by December 2014, a year before PVPA’s charter comes up for renewal.

Failure to meet those conditions could result in PVPA being placed on probation, having its charter revoked or having additional conditions imposed on that charter, according to the board’s motion.

Scott Goldman, head of the 408-student charter school, said PVPA has already taken steps to comply with the conditions, including hiring two local consultants to evaluate the math program.

“We are going to be reviewing our entire math curriculum and we’ll definitely be taking this recommendation seriously,” he said.

Chester said he recommended the new requirements after PVPA failed to meet an earlier condition imposed as part of its charter renewal in 2010 to show improvement in student scores on the statewide MCAS math tests.

While PVPA student scores on the English MCAS “demonstrate improvement compared to past years, the mathematics results remain low and demonstrate little evidence of an increasingly effective program of instruction,” Chester said in a Jan. 18 memo to the state board.

Goldman said the school’s difficulties with math scores are mostly an issue in grades 7 and 8, and he said the school’s 10th-grade math scores have been similar to those in the districts where PVPA’s students hail from.

“Students come to PVPA from almost 60 different cities and towns. They have different curriculums, different levels of math understanding,” he said of the middle schoolers.

“I feel very strongly that our communities recognize that we have been and are an academic success, and we’re just going to look more at middle school math now.”

PVPA’s student growth percentile, a tool that measures how MCAS test scores compare to students with similar scores at other Massachusetts public schools, was 35.5 in math for all grades in 2012, well below the state median of 50, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

When broken down by grade, the student growth percentile of the middle school math students was much less than the state median — 19 for seventh grade and 38.5 for eighth grade — while the 10th-grade student growth percentile was closer to the state median at 47.

Since the first condition was set in 2010, Goldman said, the school has “taken many steps” to improve students’ math abilities, including lengthening the class periods for math, reducing class sizes, providing more tutoring and small-group help for struggling students and helping math teachers get additional training by increasing the department’s professional development budget “fivefold.”

In response to the recent conditions, the school hired as consultants University of Massachusetts mathematics professor Farshid Hajir and former Amherst Regional Middle School Principal Michael Hayes, Goldman said. They will meet with school administrators and math teachers Friday to begin their review of the department, he said.

Founded in 1996, PVPA is among 10 of 76 charter schools now operating in Massachusetts with conditions attached to their charters, according to the state. Locally, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley has conditions related to school governance and administrator evaluations attached to its charter. Leaders of that school are scheduled to present a report to the state education board next month.

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