Island educators began to analyze the good and less good news contained in the 2008 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores released Wednesday, while they voiced continued frustration at what they say are unrealistic provisions in the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the tests.
Some of the good news: all six Island schools met state targets for the school’s overall average percentage, known as the composite performance index, in both English and math.
In science, Island schools rate consistently high. Third grade classes are high across the board.
At the West Tisbury School, seventh grade placed 15 out of 463 schools in the state in math, while the school’s third grade ranked 19 out of 1,001.
However, two schools — the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Oak Bluffs School — failed to meet their AYP for 2008, based on performance in special education and Hispanic subgroups, respectively.
To meet requirements schools must either meet or exceed state targets in both English and math, overall and across various student subgroups, or improve on the previous year’s scores.
With the exception of the Edgartown School, each school failed to improve in some area on the previous year’s performance.
Though the majority of special education classes saw a second year of significant improvement, several classes are still below the state targets.
The Oak Bluffs School, which did not meet requirements for the second consecutive year, is now officially identified for improvement. Schools identified for improvement are required to offer parents the option of sending their child to another school within the district that has made AYP.
But Oak Bluffs is far from alone; half of Massachusetts schools have been identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring this year under the federal system. The number of schools not making AYP in Massachusetts has more than doubled, to over 1,000 since 2004, and the Department of Education expects that number to rise to nearly 1,300 by 2014, the final year of the No Child Left Behind program. Next year the state targets will jump to 84.3 for math and 90.2 for English. By 2014 the target will be 100 for both subjects.
At a meeting of the all-Island school committee early this week at which Laurie Halt, the assistant to the superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction made a presentation based on preliminary results, acommittee member Leslie Baynes expressed his concern over the potential impact on already tight school budgets.
“All of this is underfunded,” he said, “the budgets are done, what if we have a really bad year? Where do you take away from?”
It’s what schools are facing across the country, Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said yesterday.
“I wasn’t surprised by some of the subgroups that didn’t meet the requirements,” he said, “we’re going to be dealing with it more and more.”
Mr. Weiss explained that it may be a question of moving individual children who met state requirements away from the special education course in order to pick up different students, though this may mean moving the child earlier than they would like.
“They may not be ready,” he said, “But we don’t have the luxury of going to hire ten new teachers.”
Not that they would want to anyway, he added: “We don’t want to do anything based on one year of tests. Changes just don’t happen that quick.”
AYP affects schools at a grant level too, explained Mr. Weiss. When a school or district does not meet AYP, restrictions are imposed, channeling spending to areas intended to bring up those below target scores.
“It limits our discretion,” he said.
Spending of Title One grant money, which goes toward professional development, will be state-proscribed at the Oak Bluffs this year to the tune of 10 per cent or $6,500 to $7,000 Mr. Weiss said.
Title Two grant money, for teacher quality enhancement, will also be controlled at some schools to an extent, he said.
No Child Left Behind demands that 97 per cent of a school’s teacher body must be highly qualified, a status which requires teachers to attend various courses. Rather than applying for a waiver for these teachers, Mr. Weiss said he is required this to divert some funding specifically to this training.
Overall, though, Mr. Weiss does not anticipate making major budgetary allowances for the tests over the coming years.
“I don’t see huge changes,” he said.
It speaks to the view expressed by Mr. Weiss that much of the teaching for MCAS coincides with standard instruction goals.
Good teaching results in good MCAS results. Mrs. Halt said that a common misconception is that schools should spend time making students learn by rote, or teaching to the test. Very little of the tests are based on memory learning but rather they are based on applied skills.
“The more creative, integrated and rigorous the instruction,” she said, “the better the results are.”
However, Mr. Weiss pointed to the area of special education as a notable exception.
The majority of special education students must sit for the standard MCAS, something Mr. Weiss sees as an intrinsic flaw in the tests.
“Philosophically it’s an unfair standard,” he said, “they will not learn at the same speed.”
As Island educators break down the results over the coming weeks, guidance counselors will go through results with individual students and principals will edit teacher reports on the scores. These will be collated by Mrs. Halt, who will assemble a full report on school trends.
Both Mrs. Halt and Mr. Weiss underscored that the best measure of MCAS success is the progress of individual classes, followed from grade to grade.
“If you follow children as they progress through grades, you can see if we’re really making progress,” said Mr. Weiss. “If I see that’s the trend then I’m a happy camper. MCAS doesn’t do that, that’s why it’s absurd,” he said, “The ultimate goal is 100 per cent and that’s perfection. They’re not academic decisions, they’re political decisions.”