The numbers of Island school students passing and even acing the state MCAS tests increased significantly this year, according to school and district test results released yesterday by the state department of education. Raw scores across the Island were also higher than state averages.

"The trends are what I'm pleased about. It's in an upward direction," said superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. "I'm pleased, but we're by no means bragging about it because we see it as one component of our program for students."

Last spring, more than 1,000 Vineyard students took the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test. For fourth, eighth and tenth graders, it's a 15 to 20-hour marathon that takes weeks to administer.

Last year, for the first time, third, sixth and seventh graders were also tested in much shorter versions of the MCAS designed to assess reading, writing and language skills.

And this year also marks the first year that the test truly becomes high-stakes for one group of students - the 182 tenth graders at the regional high school. They must pass the test before their senior year in order to graduate.

But Mr. Cash pointed to major improvements in reducing the numbers of high school students failing the MCAS. This year, only nine per cent failed the English-Language Arts sections while 11 per cent failed math. Two years ago, almost half were failing math. And compared to last year, the percentage of students failing in both areas was cut by more than half.

"These are the students we need to target, but we have good strategies in place," said Mr. Cash.

But while improvements were seen across the board, it was the Oak Bluffs School which saw the most significant gains in the percentage of students moving into the advanced and proficient categories. The school also managed to outpace its Island counterparts in raw number scores.

The achievement in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Cash said, is all the more remarkable given the challenges facing the school. "They have the largest number of kids and the highest number with disabilities," he said. "But their picture overall is the strongest. It shows me the staff is really working on these areas."

While students statewide saw improved English scores thanks to adjustments in the grading the test, the fourth graders in Oak Bluffs made decisive gains. Of the 57 to take the test, nine per cent came out in the advanced category. None scored that high in 2000.The numbers scoring in the proficient range more than tripled, 49 per cent compared to just 17 per cent last year. And fewer fourth graders needed improvement this year, just 35 per cent, down from 79 per cent the previous year. The raw score was 242.

As for math, fourth graders in Oak Bluffs also improved. Their average raw score was 248, with more students moving into the advanced (30 per cent) and proficient (35 per cent) ranges than the year before. While 26 per cent needed improvement, that figure is down from 35 per cent last year. Nine per cent scored in a range that last year was called failing and this year is called warning.

The story was much the same for Oak Bluffs School eighth graders, who managed to boost their already strong showing in language arts. Only 13 per cent scored in the needs improvement or warning levels. Of the 45 eighth graders taking the MCAS language arts, 16 per cent were advanced and 71 per cent proficient. The average raw score was 249.

In math, eighth graders in Oak Bluffs posted scores that moved 27 per cent into the advanced tier while almost completely eradicating the failure rate. Only one student received a warning score, compared to 41 per cent in 2000. Average raw score in math was 244. Similar gains were made in the history and social science test. Last year, only five per cent were proficient. This year, it was 24 per cent. Percentages on the two bottom rungs also dropped.

In the Up-Island Regional School District (which includes the Menemsha School), fourth graders also climbed higher in the English portion of MCAS. Of the 55 test-takers, 60 per cent were proficient, compared to 17 per cent last year. In the needs improvement group, the portion fell from 79 to 35 per cent. The raw score was 243.

Fourth graders in the most recent testing did not do as well on the math section, with fewer students scoring in the advanced and proficient range than the year earlier. Of the 58 who sat for the exam, two per cent were advanced and 29 per cent proficient. Test results also showed increases in the numbers of students needing improvement and getting a score that merited a warning. The raw score for math was 235.

In the Up-Island region, eighth graders made a strong showing in English, with a raw score of 250 and improvement over last year's percentages for advanced and proficient. Only 12 per cent of the 51 students who took the test fell in the needs improvement or warning categories. The remaining 88 per cent were either proficient or advanced in English, up 12 percentage points from 2000.

And in math, the eighth graders resembled the fourth graders. While 23 per cent were advanced, compared to nine per cent last year, the numbers in the proficient range dropped from 53 to 33 per cent. Of the 52 students taking the math section, 35 per cent needed improvement, compared to 24 per cent last year. The raw score was 245.In Tisbury, none of the fourth graders made it to the advanced level in English. Only 30 students took the test, and exactly half were proficient, up from 16 per cent last year. Needing improvement were 40 per cent, down from 67 per cent the previous year. The average raw score was 237. In math, where the raw score was 232, the ranges were almost unchanged from the year before: seven per cent advanced, 23 per cent proficient, 43 per cent needing improvement and 27 per cent at the warning level.

Eighth graders in the Tisbury School performed well on the English section of MCAS. While none made an advanced score, 83 per cent of the 35 students were proficient. Those needing improvement were 14 per cent, down from 29 per cent in 2000. The raw score was 246. As with the fourth graders, the math scores were similar to last year: 17 per cent advanced, 26 per cent proficient, 49 per cent needing improvement and nine per cent receiving a warning score. The raw score of 239 was a slight improvement over last year's score of 238. As for the history test, scores also didn't change much, 227 compared to 224 last year. The majority - 91 per cent - still struggled to get out of the two lower ranges.

At the Edgartown School, fourth graders also posted better scores in English than their predecessors. Of the 46 test-takers, just under half were either advanced or proficient, compared to only three per cent in 2000. The raw score was 237, up from 230. In math, there was also improvement, the raw score going from 231 to 238. More students scored in the advanced and proficient categories, nine per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

The 45 Edgartown eighth graders also maintained a strong showing in English. With an average raw score of 248, the vast majority - 87 per cent - were either advanced or proficient. None received a warning. Math scores were comparable to last year, with roughly half advanced or proficient and the other half needing improvement or in danger of failing. Eighth graders also didn't fare so well in the history department, with almost one-third scoring in the warning zone. Only 23 per cent tested at the advanced or proficient levels. The raw score was 230, down from 236.

High school tenth graders tested last spring scored higher in both sections. While cutting down the failure rate, they also beefed up the ranks in the upper two echelons. In English, 19 per cent were advanced and 45 per cent proficient. The raw score was 244, up from 236 last year. In math, 63 per cent of the 182 taking the exams were either advanced or proficient. The raw score was 243. Over at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, only 16 eighth graders took the test. While 69 per cent passed the English portion with proficient scores, 19 per cent needed improvement and 13 per cent received a warning score. The overall raw score was 244.

In math, it was a rough year for the small group at the charter school when it came to MCAS. In 2000, 53 per cent were either advanced or proficient, but in 2001 only one student made a score in the proficient range. None were advanced. The average raw score was 227. In history, none made it to the top two levels. The majority - 69 per cent - needed improvement, and the rest earned scores that earned them a warning.

Charter school director Bob Moore said school leaders are taking a close look at their math curriculum. Still, he was pleased by the postive showing in the English section of MCAS.

Parents can expect to receive their children's individual test scores by the middle of next week.