Friday, December 8, 2006
RSC reviews 10th-grade MCAS results
Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) Principal Art Dulong presented a report of last year's tenth-grade MCAS results at the November 28 meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC). The results are generally very good, improving over the last few years. Fewer students are earning low scores and more are scoring in the top two categories. However, this year saw an unexplained drop in the percent ranked Advanced on the English Language Arts (ELA) test.
The MCAS English Language Arts and Mathematics tests are intended to evaluate how well high school students and schools are achieving the learning standards contained in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. Performance levels are: Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement and Failing. High school students must pass both the grade 10 English and math tests to earn a high school diploma.
Ninety-six percent of students in last year's sophomore class scored at the Advanced or Proficient level. A three-year comparison shows a small increase in the percentage of students scoring in these higher two levels as the percentage of students at the Needs Improvement level has dropped from 6% to 4%. No students at CCHS failed the English test. Including students who are placed out-of-district due to extreme disabilities, 1% failed. Statewide, 7% of students failed.
19% fewer Advanced
Although the overall percentage of students scoring in the Advanced and Proficient levels has gone up, the percentage of students scoring in the Advanced level has gone down from 51% to 30% in the past year. When asked after the meeting what caused the drop in the number of students scoring at the Advanced level, Dulong replied, "It's a different cohort of kids. Also, the state is constantly tinkering with the test. If you look at the statewide results, you'll see a decline in the Advanced level as well."
When asked if he was concerned about the decrease in the number of students in the Advanced level, Dulong said, "Not really. We will look for a pattern to see if the number in Advanced continues to drop. If we had changed programs in the freshman or sophomore classes, we'd be more concerned. But that is not the case."
Dulong said, "We look harder at the AYP number." The AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, is the combined total at the Proficient and Advanced levels. This number has risen, indicating that fewer students are in the Needs Improvement and Failing levels.
In the grade 10 Mathematics Test, 92% of CCHS students scored in the Proficient or Advanced levels. Three students, or 1%, failed the test at CCHS. If students placed out-of-district are included, 2% failed. The statewide average for students failing mathematics is 12%. The test has questions in five areas or strands, which include number sense, algebra, geometry, measurement and data analysis. A three-year comparison shows an increase in the percentage of students in the Advanced and Proficient levels. "When compared to the statewide results, CCHS students continue to score significantly higher," said Dulong.
Dulong briefly discussed the failing grades. "One student only took half the test," he said. He wasn't in school to take the whole test. "Another student failed because he didn't answer any of the open response questions." The student thought he could pass the test without bothering with those questions.
Results are broken down into different sub-groups, such as minorities, disabilities, and poverty status. Looking at the Performance Index, Special Education students scored about three points below in English Language and six points below in math compared to the average student scores. METCO students scored ten points below in English Language and 18 points below in mathematics in comparison to the average of all tenth-grade students at CCHS. Dulong said, "These [METCO] students need specialized attention."
Ways to boost learning
Dulong talked about what has been done and what will be done to help students improve. A geometry course has been added during the sophomore year that includes some algebra review. There will be more individualized assistance to students. Special Education services will be improved and there will be an increase in tutoring during and after school.
In addition, Joseph Hehn of the Special Education Department at CCHS has started up an "achievement gap" team to understand potential reasons for the gap and work on strategies to improve curricular opportunities for minority students, special education students and low-income students.
One thing that has been identified is that some of these students do not have a computer at home. As computers are replaced at the high school, the older ones are eligible to be loaned out. So far, 17 computers have been loaned out to students and there will be more to go out in the future. Also, a mentoring program has started that pairs senior METCO students with freshmen METCO students. Teachers are also being trained in mentoring techniques.
When reached after the RSC meeting, Dulong said, "We have known about this [achievement] gap for forever. We have been working on it awhile. It is pervasive throughout the country. The METCO kids have fared about the same over the years [at CCHS]We keep trying different things. We have an MCAS ELA (English Language Arts) class in addition to the regular English classes students take. We have tutors, mentors and extra math classes in place. The 18-point difference is a smaller gap than what is seen at the state level and the national level."
It should be noted that there are no time limits on taking MCAS tests. All students can take as long as they need. Special Education students get certain accommodations, such as the right to take the test outside the classroom, perhaps in a carrel. Students can have the questions read to them aloud, but the speaker may not explain the question. Some students are allowed to type their answers, with no "Spell-check" capabilities.
When asked what strategies have been successful in closing the achievement gap, Dulong said, "Really successful schools, there's about a dozen across the country, have instigated extended day or week programs so students are getting a longer time in school with more instruction. Expectations are set very high. Those expectations are vigilantly reinforced by the student's family and the staff. And there's a highly structured curriculum."
Dulong pointed out that this year's freshmen class will need to pass a science MCAS test in addition to the English and math tests to graduate. This year's seventh-grade class will need to pass the above three tests and a new MCAS test on United States history.
© 2006 The