This image from a slide presentation at the Oct. 21 meeting of the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee, was explained by A-R Assistant Superintendent Steve Meyer, during discussion of the most recent MCAS test results. While some progress has been made in certain areas, other areas, to some school committee members, are still seen as either falling behind or not quickly enough getting up to speed, and led to some spirited debate.Photo by Keith Ken

Analysis of A-R district's MCAS results presented

Some areas show slight improvement, but scores remain below average

Note: Reaction to these MCAS results by school committee members will follow in a report to be published Saturday, Oct. 31.

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ATHOL — A detailed analysis of the most recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing results for the Athol-Royalston Regional School District was presented Oct. 21, which at times seemed to provide an equal proportion of both positives and negatives. While there have been various categories where improvement has been made in the classrooms, there were also areas of concern. Several committee members voiced concern the process is not demonstrating results they expected by now, as the presentation received mixed reviews from both sides of the table.

In a presentation to the school committee, for which superintendent Anthony Polito invited Tom Lamey of the District School Assessment Centers (DSAC) of Massachusetts, and Heather Johnson of Looney Mathematics Consulting, charts were used to help explain the results to school committee members. As Polito explained, “They have been with us for almost two years as we have brought in the Engage New York program, also known as Eureka Math program, for the elementary schools — it is considered one of the best math curriculums around in the U.S. today. It is a comprehensive, very rigorous program. Difficult to train teachers to teach it, that is why we have the consultants with us.”

The opening page of the report states, “Overall the ARRSD has been ‘treading water’ the last four years. However, there is reason to expect that given the implementation of the new curricula, instructional practices, and assessment throughout the district, there should be progress in the near future. ARRSD teachers are no longer teaching math, and English Language Arts (ELA) the way they did a few years ago. As these changes are fully implemented and refined, as well as supported by a comprehensive system of interventions, we anticipate that there will be improvement in student growth and achievement in the near future.”

The charts tell a story of gain, loss, and or stayed the same, which while sounding simple is anything but with the amount of work needed behind the scenes. ELA growth percentile is up 4% from last year, but down 2% from two years ago. The growth percentile in math is down 3% from a year ago, but still 3% higher than two years ago. Proficiency in math is up 3% from a year ago, while in ELA is only equal to two years ago. The following school break downs are listed.

Athol High School — Grade 10 ELA Advanced & Proficient increased by 6% over a year ago, with the amount failing in this category decreasing by 8%. Students in Grade 10 Math who are failing also decreased by 2%; however, Advanced & Proficient overall in Grade 10 decreased by 6% from the year prior. Biology Advanced and Proficient dropped by 1%.

Athol Royalston Middle School (ARMS) — Students in both math and ELA achieved moderate or high growth in 6 out of 8 tests, with an increase in scores also in math and ELA compared to the year prior. It was also announced at the Athol Royalston Middle School that special education students exceeded the state average in growth in math and ELA in 5 out of 8 tests. Under “Areas that need improvement” at ARMS, the percentage of warning/needs improvement in all subjects is higher than the state average, and the school also has a smaller percentage of students scoring “advanced” compared to the rest of the commonwealth. Open response writing in all grades at ARMS also scored below the state average. In math, “Expressions & Equations” strand ranked below the state average in the majority of grades. The geometry strand was also below the state average in all grades. The report listed ARMS as “treading water” with minor gains over all in some areas, and minor drops in others.

Pleasant Street — High growth in Grade 4 math. Moderate growth in Grade 4 ELA. Grade 3 ELA, Advanced up 2% & Proficienct up 8% vs 2014. Grade 3 math, Advanced up 2% and Proficient up 12% vs. 2014. Grade 3 math, Warning decreased from 33% in 2014 to 18% in 2015. Grade 4 math, Advanced was up 5% and Proficient was up 2% vs 2014. Areas needing improvement at the PSS were Grade 4 ELA, and the percentages of students in the warning category increased in three of the four tests.

Riverbend/Sanders Street — The percentage of students scoring Advanced in Grade 3 ELA has increased by 10%. Over the last 3 years in Grade 4 ELA, the number of students scoring advanced has increased by 4%. Grade 3 students scoring Proficient or Advanced in math increased by 10% vs 2014, with grade 3 students scoring in the Warning category dropping by 18%. In “Areas needing Improvement” Grade 4 Math still has 82% of students scoring below Proficient, far above the state average of 53%, while improving by 9% over three years. In Grade 3 Math, the number of students scoring below Proficient was 70% vs a state average of 30%, while improving by 7% over 3 years. In Grade 4 ELA, students scoring below the level of Proficient was 78%, with a state average of 47%, though it has improved by 8%. In Grade 3 ELA, students scoring below Proficient actually got worse, decreasing by 3% since 2012, and 35% higher than the state average.

Royaston Community School  Grade 4 Math Advanced and Proficient up 10% vs. a year ago. Grade 6 Math is actually 5% higher than the state average in Advanced & Proficient. Grade 6 ELA Achievement is up 8% vs 2014. In areas of needing improvement, all student ELA growth is considered low growth.

As an Elementary Summary once again, the District is listed as “Treading Water.” A handout provided stated it as, “Minor gains in some areas, and minor drops in others,” but overall not a significant drop given the implementation of new programs.

The numbers are clearly mixed and run the gamut as the test scores of the grades which are MCAS tested represent the good, the bad, and the ugly. Progress is being made, with some school committee members saying they need more time, and other members echoing they feel time is running out. If one thing is clear, a full District Turnaround Plan is just that, an enormous undertaking. The question is, can the District increase the MCAS numbers fast enough to begin reversing school choice, as the more students who leave also take more money earmarked for education with them as the district is already losing $2.25 million annually and that number is climbing.

The MCAS testing procedure is now entering its later life span and even beginning to be discussed as outdated by many educational professionals. The State of Massachusetts will soon be taking a vote regarding the possibility of switching over to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Carrers (PARCC). If this transition in standardized testing does take place, the question then becomes, “How do the old numbers equate to the new numbers, and where will that leave any district and its students?”

At the Oct. 19 special meeting held by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Commissioner Mitchel D. Chester expressed the following views on MCAS/PARCC discussion. 

“While we purposefully designed a decision timeline that would allow Massachusetts to have two years’ experience with PARCC before deciding the future of our assessment system, over the past several months I increasingly have been concerned that in our effort to gather both deep and broad analysis and perspective on MCAS and PARCC, it could be easy to lose the forest for the trees. There is the danger that substantial and extensive input, sometimes contradictory, can lead to decision paralysis wherein the status quo becomes the default position. It is my goal to pull us out of the trees so that we can appreciate the forest.

“Three core understandings have emerged for me:

1. The current MCAS has reached a point of diminished returns in terms of driving more ambitious curriculum, instruction, and learning. 

2. In important ways, PARCC is a substantial advancement over MCAS in terms of a) elevating experiences for student performance, b) signaling more ambitious curricular and instructional experiences of our school, c) providing a more engaging assessment experience, and d) aligning with expectations of colleges and employers; and 

3. The path we take must ensure that Massachusetts ultimately controls our testing program. 

“Ultimately I have been thinking about taking two doors — (1) MCAS, or  (2) PARCC. I am now exploring door 3 — MCAS 2.0.”

For district special education statistics or any other questions, call the ARRSD at 978-249-2400, or go to www.arrsd.org.

Athol Daily News

PO Box 1000
225 Exchange Street
Athol, MA 01331
Phone: (978) 249-3535

 

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