The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 10, 2006


Carlisle School airs concerns about MCAS scores

Carlisle Middle School Principal Paul Graseck presented an interpretation of the school's MCAS scores at the November 1 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting. Assisting him in explaining the meaning behind the ratings were Carlisle School Reading Specialists Stephen Bober and Susan Helenius-LaPorte, and Math Specialist Liz Perry. In general Carlisle's performance on the MCAS is well above the average state scores, he noted. However, during the presentation Graseck acknowledged areas of concerns. In grade three reading it was noted the "needs improvement" category grew from 12% in 2005 to 23% in 2006. In grade four ELA (English Language Arts) the highest category, "advanced," decreased to 6% from 15% in 2005. Grade six mathematics had 28% students score Advanced, down from 61% in 2005. A similar decline was noted in grade eight mathematics, with 37% scoring "advanced," down from 61% in 2005.

Results studied

Bober reported he and other staff members have analyzed each MCAS question and students' answers to look for trends and areas that need improvement. He said they could not find a clear trend. Perry said she was encouraged that the curriculum review process, starting with math, will help evaluate what areas may be lacking. School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel replied she did not "hear an understanding" from the staff of what is causing the downward shift in scores. Superintendent Marie Doyle replied they believe the biggest problem is the "open-ended questions." These require students to read a question carefully and write an answering paragraph that includes all points mentioned in the question.

"What is the difference between 2000 and now?" asked Burkel. Perry replied it was the open-ended questions.

Carlisle compared to other schools and Concord

Graseck displayed a chart showing Carlisle's ranking compared to similar communities such as Lincoln, Concord and Sudbury. (See tables above.)

Carlisle compares well to other schools, with some ranking higher and some lower, Graseck explained. However, committee member Michael Fitzgerald expressed concern about a downward trend of scores. He discussed a study compiled by parent Alex Krapf, who was then invited to speak. In his report Krapf explained he compared the Concord, Carlisle and state results from 2000 to 2006. He then "calculated the differences between the district results and the state, and finally the differences between the two districts." He graphed the results, the differences and added trend lines to illustrate the changes.

Score trends

Looking at the fourth-grade math graph based on Carlisle's scores, Krapf notes "a significant decline in 'advanced' and an equally significant increase in 'needs improvement.'" He created a graph of Concord's fourth-grade math scores and found the opposite trend. "Concord started out with much worse results than Carlisle, but now they're better than ours." Even the state average scores, he explained through a third graph, show a small rise. His conclusion is that "the long-term trend for fourth-grade math shows a decline of >20% in 'advanced' and an increase of -20% in 'needs improvement' when normalized against Concord or the state."

He found the same downward trend in sixth-grade math, third-grade reading, and in fourth-grade language arts (Carlisle is actually trailing the state average in the advanced category, he explained).

Better picture in middle school

Fitzgerald, noting the higher scores in eighth-grade math, complimented eighth-grade math teacher Rob Quaden, and wondered what was not working in the lower grades.

Perry explained that the MCAS is not a test of each year's lessons but instead a cumulative test, and by the time the students reach eighth grade they have mastered much of what they were taught in the lower grades. In addition, they are experienced at taking the MCAS, which helps them in answering open-ended questions.

Krapf said he also noted strengths in the middle school math and language arts scores in his report, though again Concord's rise in the "advanced" category is higher than Carlisle.

In conclusion Krapf notes, "There are significant, long-term trends in Carlisle's MCAS results." He sees a movement of students from the highest category, "advanced," to the next highest, "proficient." Further, he explains, "Long-term losses in 'advanced' are in general not resulting in long-term gains in 'proficient.' Instead of a narrowing of the distribution by moving students towards the middle, the entire distribution is shifted downwards." He concludes by saying, "Carlisle is turning from an excellent into a "merely good" school.

School's MCAS plan

Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley noted that there needs to be some "patient thinking" on how to proceed with changes based on the MCAS scores. Perry outlined what support is in place and is being implemented to help struggling students on MCAS: grades 2 and 3 are piloting "FASTT Math," ("Fluency and Automaticity through Systematic Teaching with Technology") a math intervention software program. It is used to develop fluency with basic math facts; Students will be assessed in grades K to three for gaps in their math concepts; Through the Title 1 program, students in grades two to seven who are at or below a certain level will be offered special math support; writing and reading will be stressed in all curriculums; emphasis will be given on how to answer MCAS questions. Krapf noted the steps will help struggling students but will not assist students to move from Proficient to Advanced.

Committee member Chad Koski said he would like to see a comparison of the same class, from K to 8, to show the progression within a class. Burkel suggested the school report back to the School Committee in a few weeks on the status of their evaluation.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito