The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 8, 2004


Carlisle's 2004 MCAS scores show mixed results

After scoring close to the top among all Massachusetts school districts for the past few years, the 2004 MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) results, released last month, held a few surprises for the Carlisle Public School. While many scores remained stellar, math scores for the fourth grade dropped significantly from previous years' levels, and the Carlisle School Committee wanted to know why.

Last spring MCAS tests were administered as follows:

• Grade 8: Mathematics and Science and Technology/Engineering
• Grade 7: English Language Arts
• Grade 6: Mathematics
• Grade 5: Science and Technology/Engineering
• Grade 4: English Language Arts and Mathematics
• Grade 3: Reading.

While many grades are tested, the scores of students in grades 4, 8 and 10 are frequently used as the benchmarks for comparison.

Principal Steven Goodwin told the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on Wednesday evening, "In general the scores remain strong. The students and the staff including the literary specialists Susan Helenius-LaPorte and Donna Clapp do very well and this is reflected in good scores." In Grade 7 95% of the students scored in the Advanced and Proficient level on the English Language Arts test, up from 82% when they were in fourth grade. Only 5% fell in the Needs Improvement category; no one received a Warning. CSC member Dockterman said, "That is the benefit of having reading specialists. Energy and resources are focused and one gets results."

Grade 8 students have "incredible scores," Goodwin continued. In fact, 83% of Grade 8 students scored in the Advanced and Proficient categories on the mathematics test, number one in the state, and 71% scored Advanced or Proficient in the Science and Technology/Engineering exam.

Then Goodwin addressed the math scores. In Grade 4, 51% of students scored in the Needs Improvement or Warning categories in mathematics, as compared with only 24% in 2003. CSC member Fitzgerald commented, "In grade 8 the students excel in math and science, but to look at the scores of grade 4 one wonders what is going on...It is the school's challenge to teach as well in math and to provide a similar experience as in English/Language Arts." CSC member David Dockterman suggested examining how well the math curriculum aligned with the test format and questions. Superintendent Marie Doyle felt that if the fourth and fifth grade teaching teams were to provide a "100% focus on the math situation, the students would perform better."

"The school uses these tests and others," said Doyle, "[to ensure that] each child will perform to his or her maximum potential."

Causes and remedies

Reached later, Doyle addressed the school's response to the math scores in more detail. "For us, that's a concern," she said. Teachers and administrators will analyze student performance on subcategories of test questions "to see whether the curriculum is aligned and whether adjustments need to be in grades 4 and 5."

Doyle has met with the Grade 4 and 5 teachers and they have noted that "open-ended questions are difficult for young students. This is one key area where we will be paying attention." Literary specialists Susan Helenius-LaPorte and Donna Clapp, and math teacher Liz Perry, recently designated a math specialist, will work together. Perry will work with the elementary school teachers as well as individually with some students that need help.

Asked whether the recent teacher early retirement program may have affected performance, Doyle responded, "Statewide there may be some impact, [but in Carlisle] we have under 30% new teachers and we were very fortunate that we hired very strong teachers. We have developed a mentoring program [to help new teachers adjust quickly]."

Is the large size of the current fifth grade (fourth grade last spring) a factor? No, said Doyle, The fifth grade has five sections, which are not larger than other classes. The school has appointed a Middle School task force to redesign the schedule in anticipation of the large class.

Doyle said that she planned to meet with fifth-grade parents on Thursday evening, as part of parents night at the school.

No Child Left ehind

The school has designated Title 1 funds, received under the umbrella of the federal No Child Left Behind Program (NCLB) to pay for teacher Liz Perry, a math specialist.

Basically, this program requires schools to assess, report, and improve the performance of all students, but particularly focusing on poor, minority and military children, and those with limited English proficiency. The school district is eligible to receive Title 1 funds based on the number of students in these groups. Carlisle has a low number of students counted as low-income or military, and consequently, receives little funding. Until last year NCLB administration and record-keeping cost more than the school received in compensation. However, last year Carlisle received $45,000 , and this year the school will receive $32,700. Both years the school has designated the funds for math remediation and special needs children.

The school's NCLB profile will be made public later in this month. However, NCLB assessments are based on MCAS scores and the school already knows that it will be well above "needs improvement" in all categories.

Tenth-graders score well

The stakes are particularly high for tenth graders, as a student must pass all tenth-grade tests in order to receive a diploma from a public high school. This year, as in years past, scores in English and math remained exceptionally high, on average (see table). Of particular significance, all tenth-grade students at Concord-Carlisle High School passed the required tests.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito