The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System scores released this week reveal conflicting trends in Vineyard schools, where individual classes excelled but schools as a whole did not progress enough to meet new state and federal benchmarks.
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was the only school to meet the state’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets in English and math. However, Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss this week called higher cutoff levels one of the reasons the schools were falling short of the targets.
Schools in Oak Bluffs, Chilmark and Tisbury did not meet AYP in either English language arts or mathematics, and the Edgartown and West Tisbury schools reached it in English but not math.
The English language arts target for students testing “proficient” increased from 90.2 per cent last year to 95.1 per cent this year, and in mathematics from 84.3 per cent last year to 92.2 per cent this year. So schools could improve their scores yet fall short of the higher targets.
But there was good news too: Individual grades across the Island earned top rankings.
The Tisbury School fourth grade English language arts scores ranked number one in the state at 99.3 per cent, and the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School’s 10th grade English scores earned them the top ranking as well.
The West Tisbury School’s eighth grade science class ranked first for the second year in a row, and the Up-Island Regional School District’s eighth grade English scores earned them fifth in the state, at 99.3 per cent proficiency.
Other highlights include the up-Island and Edgartown School scoring 94.2 per cent and 91.7 per cent respectively in the fifth grade special education subgroup, earning them first and second place.
Mr. Weiss put the results in context.
“There are three things to keep in mind here. Number one, we have a higher percentage of advanced and proficient students this year than last year and that number is rising,” Mr. Weiss said.
“Second, performance ratings can be high or low, and ours are all high or very high; we performed very well.
“And then there’s an improvement rating. You can be declined, on target or no change. We’re either on target or no change. We’re moving forward or staying the same, but we’re never going back, and that’s a good thing.”
MCAS tests are administered to public school students across the state in grades three through ten in the spring of each year. Tenth grade students must pass the MCAS in order to graduate. Mathematics and English language arts are the primary testing areas; science was added a few years ago but is not used in AYP.
The test began in 1998 as a way to measure schools in four areas: the number of students taking the tests, performance, improvement and attendance. Within each area the schools are measured by total performance, or the aggregate, and in subgroups that include special education, low income, students with English as a second language and five ethnic groups (black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and white). A school must meet the performance targets both in the aggregate and in every subgroup, or surpass their scores from the year before.
MCAS was framed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the goal of the tests is to have all schools at 100 per cent proficiency in every area by the year 2014. This year’s increase in targets is the last until the final year of the testing program.
Across Massachusetts 82 per cent of schools missed the testing targets this year, up from 67 per cent from last year.
Mr. Weiss couldn’t pinpoint whether a subgroup or an entire group was the reason for the schools not making AYP, saying, “It’s a concern but we’re still looking at it.”
This was the fourth consecutive year the Oak Bluffs School did not make AYP. The school has a large number of English Language Learners, low-income and special needs students, and Mr. Weiss said the scores were not surprising.
“I think we knew this was coming and that’s why changes were made,” he said of Richie Smith taking over as principal this year. “We have high hopes for the future at the Oak Bluffs School, and I think we’ll look at this very differently a year from now.”
Mr. Weiss and the school administrators will now take the data collected through MCAS and assess whether changes need to be made.
“Each school analyzes the data, we’ll be looking at trends and individual students, who needs help,” he said, adding it will take about a month for the final reports. “We’ll look at the program and see what can we do to make the program better.”
Mr. Weiss said measuring student growth through MCAS was one way to do so.
“We’re comparing last year’s fourth grade to this year’s fourth grade, they’re two completely different groups and we’re forced to compare fourth grade to fourth grade,” he said. “It’s one measure, it gives us comparisons across the state, but we want more data so we can look more at making individual changes.
“We’re more interested in looking at our students growing year to year,” he added.