Friday, November 12, 2004
MCAS performance spurs curriculum changes
Results from last year's MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests raised concerns at the Carlisle School. In general the Carlisle School does extremely well, with test scores placing the district near the top of elementary and middle schools in Massachusetts. But a disturbing pattern has emerged, according to Superintendent Marie Doyle, speaking at the November 3 Carlisle School Committee meeting. The current fifth-grade class, which took the test as fourth-graders last year, placed 110th out of 298 districts in the state, lower than expected. This has matched a pattern seen with the same class over four years, Doyle explained in a note to parents.
The key problem area was the "open ended" questions, in which the students must write an answer after reading text, citing examples from the material. These types of questions appear on all MCAS tests, including math and language arts. Students will need more instruction on answering these types of questions, Math Specialist Elizabeth Perry explained. Expressing concern that the students would be taught "to the test," committee member David Dockterman said, "I hate that concept. Don't fall into test-taking." "We won't teach to the test," Doyle replied, "but we don't want kids to be surprised by questions they've never done before."
As a result of the scores, the fifth-grade team presented a sixteen-point action plan to the school committee. Highlights of the plan include:
· reviewing gaps in the curriculum, including the Everyday Math program, "embedding" the types of questions seen on the tests, as Perry explained;
· reinforcing math drill work and critical thinking;
· "increasing awareness of student and teacher responsibility regarding behavior that impacts the learning environment";
· adding a fifth-grade homework club;
· emphasizing positive reinforcement during Open Circle.
Doyle thanked the Carlisle Education Foundation for funding the new fifth-grade homework club.
Doyle met with fifth-grade parents at the end of October to explain the results and the steps that will be taken to target the areas identified as problems. "Most parents left the meeting feeling better. It was a good meeting; we feel good about what the school is doing," said fifth-grade parent Lisa Harris at the School Committee meeting.
The class is a "bubble group," with an average of 22 students for each class. The Middle School Task Force is preparing to present a middle school teaching model for the next year's sixth grade which will lower class sizes.
© 2004 The