Many area schools exceed statewide marks on MCAS

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@cmlindahl
Published: 9/26/2016 9:22:54 PM

Hatfield Superintendent John Robert credits small class sizes at Smith Academy for its success in the English MCAS, with all 10th-graders scoring advanced or proficient.

“We’re really able to pinpoint our instruction,” he said.

All of the 10th-graders at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley also scored advanced or proficient. “I think we try very hard to address the needs of all students,” said Principal Kathleen Wang.

Results from the standardized tests administered in the spring to the state’s public school students that were released Monday show that area high schools generally fared well on the MCAS, or the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. High school students are required to pass the MCAS English and math exams and at least one of four exams in science and technology in order to graduate.

The exams are graded on a numerical scale and assigned a category of advanced, proficient, needs improvement or warning/failing.

Meantime, results from area middle and high schools varied. Most Hampshire County high schools (excluding Ware) met or exceeded the proficient standard at a higher level than the rest of the state.

In Massachusetts, 91 percent of high school sophomores scored proficient or advanced on the English exam, while 78 percent scored within those categories on the math exam and 73 percent had those scores on the science and technology exam.

Among those 12 area high schools, only two barely missed the statewide mark on English scores: Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, where 90 percent of students scored proficient or higher, and Easthampton High School, where 88 percent of students earned such scores.

There was, however, a 7 percent increase in students earning those scores at Smith School compared to last year.

The greatest share of high math scorers was at Smith Academy, where 93 percent of students scored proficient or above. Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School was next, where 92 percent of students earned those scores.

Three area schools had a smaller share of advanced or proficient scorers in math than the state total: the Chinese Immersion Charter School, where 75 percent of students scored above proficient, Easthampton High School (75 percent) and Smith Vocational (65 percent).

And for the science test, two scored below the state figure: Smith Academy (72 percent), and the Chinese Immersion Charter School (69 percent).

Easthampton High School showed the greatest improvement among area schools on the science MCAS. In 2015, 67 percent of students scored proficient or advanced. This year, 82 percent of students earned those scores.

Principal Kevin Burke gave credit to the use of online curriculum portal Moodle in the science department. Moodle gives students access to videos, notes and other learning materials and allows teachers to administer tests and quizzes online.

Teachers can use those assessments to focus on particular areas of trouble for individual students or entire classes. And less time is taken up in the classroom on exams, which frees up that time for instruction, Burke said.

Chemistry teacher Shawn Sheenan brought Moodle to the high school for the first time and it has been in use for a few years. The platform is being adopted increasingly among other departments, he said.

Fifth, eighth grades

In years past, students in Grades 3 to 8 took the MCAS annually. This year, districts had the option to administer MCAS — first designed in the state about two decades ago — or the PARCC exam, which is taken in about a dozen states, to students in those grades.

However, science MCAS tests were administered in Grades 5 and 8 in every district. In Grade 5, 47 percent of students scored proficient or higher, and in Grade 8 it was 41 percent.

About two-fifths of area elementary or middle schools at the fifth-grade level had a smaller percentage of proficient or higher scores: Bridge Street School in Northampton (45 percent), Hadley Elementary School (43 percent), Fort River Elementary School in Amherst (41 percent), Chestnut Hill Community School in Belchertown (41 percent), Gateway Regional Middle School in Huntington (38 percent), White Brook Middle School in Easthampton (36 percent) and R.K. Finn Ryan Road School in Northampton (33 percent).

Fifth-graders scored highest at the Chinese Immersion Charter School (76 percent) and William E. Norris School in Southampton (74 percent).

Some 40 percent of area middle schools at the eighth-grade level had a smaller percentage of proficient or higher scores than the statewide figure: Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School (40 percent), John F. Kennedy Middle School  in Northampton (39 percent), Hopkins Academy in Hadley  (31 percent), White Brook Middle School (25 percent) and Gateway Regional Junior High School (20 percent).

The statewide average PARCC scores are not being released by the state because it is difficult to “create a valid representative sample to serve as a basis for comparing statewide results,” according to a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education release.

This is the last year for the testing patchwork.

PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, was first offered in Massachusetts in 2015 as state officials pondered whether to keep the MCAS exam, adopt the PARCC test or merge the two. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last fall voted to develop the so-called “MCAS 2.0,” which combines features from both tests.

Next spring, students in Grades 3 to 8 will take that next-generation MCAS, while high school sophomores will continue to take the existing test.

The results of the MCAS, including participation rates, are among the factors used by the state to calculate Accountability and Assistance scores, a five-level scale that determines the level of state assistance and review of school districts.

No Hampshire County district or school scored above a 3 this year. Schools at level 4 and 5 require state approval of operational plans or are placed in state receivership.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com




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