The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 10, 2008

MCAS, school hours subjects of CCHS Principal’s Coffee

The first Principal’s Coffee for parents of students at Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) was held on Monday, October 6. It provided Principal Peter Badalament an opportunity to trumpet the school’s exceptional results on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Score (MCAS), and to attempt to explain new state rules for students scoring in the “needs improvement (NI)” category. He also spoke of the wide range of foreign exchange opportunities this year, and heard feedback on changes made to the school day to comply with a new state requirement for academic hours.

Badalament noted that CCHS students test very well. Seven students were National Merit semi-finalists this year, scoring in the top 1% of the country on the PSATs, and excellent results were obtained on the MCAS. Of all CCHS tenth graders who took the MCAS, 96% scored in the proficient or advanced range in English, 94% in Math, and 95% in Science. On the Chemistry piece, over 70% of students scored advanced.

All tenth-grade students in Massachusetts must take and pass the MCAS in order to graduate. In the past this meant scoring at least an NI on the initial test or a retest, but for the graduating class of 2010, a new requirement has been added. The state education department, recently renamed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), has indicated that each student scoring in the NI area must now have a plan for achieving competency by graduation. At CCHS, about 25 students will be affected this year. Starting with the Class of 2012, students will have to achieve proficiency in history as well as the current three subjects.

“It will not be good enough to just pass,” said Badalament. “It’s very hazy what that means.” He compared the competency plan to an individual education plan for special needs students, but noted that, currently, the MCAS retest does not offer a score above NI. It is not clear how a student can raise his grade into the area of proficiency. The retest was designed with easier questions in the hopes that those who failed the first time would have a chance at passing.

One parent whose son was not available for the MCAS last year and must take the retest as a junior, was surprised, “The best he can do is an NI? This is one of the most stunning pieces of information about MCAS I’ve ever heard.” Badalament said this is also problematic for students transferring from private schools in the higher grades (about eight to ten per year). They must take the MCAS retest, which means they cannot score above NI, and are not eligible for scholarships providing free tuition to state schools. “It’s a bizarre bureaucratic thing,” said one participant.

Contacted later, Badalament said he is not aware of any plans at the state level to resolve the problem, though he said, “For the very small number of students who failed the first time, they are usually pretty happy to just pass.”

In response to another question, he added, “Special needs students do very, very well on the MCAS” with some scoring in the advanced and proficient ranges. He discourages the alternative MCAS, the accommodation for students with significant special needs, as “sometimes more challenging than the test itself.”

Travel and foreign exchange

Badalament noted that about 40 CCHS students will go to France or Ecuador on exchange programs this spring, and other trips are planned to the UK and Japan. “It’s remarkable our kids travel as much as they do.” Eight foreign students are currently at CCHS, four from exchange programs. Two are from Turkmenistan, “one of the most closed societies in the world.” They are among the first students from that country to visit the U.S., and were invited by teacher David Nuremburg who was sent to Turkmenistan last spring by the State Department.

Scheduling

A parent wondered how the four-minute pass time between classes is working out. Last year, students had five minutes, but this was one of several changes made to the school schedule to expand academic hours as required by the state. Badalament said, “if they don’t stop to talk to or text somebody, it’s doable.” The high school hours are now 7:25 a.m. to 2:08 p.m., and while most would prefer a later schedule, school bus availability is a constraint. The schedules for all Concord Schools are being reviewed by a committee chaired by Superintendent Diana Rigby.

Request for extended library hours

A coffee participant suggested that the school library be open later than 3 p.m. If it were open until 4 or 5 p.m., students waiting for after-school activities to start could be using their time more productively. Badalament said it will be a tough budget year, but that he might support a request if it did not cost much. Could parents volunteer to help out? He will investigate.

Badalament said he is composing a wish list of requests in case there is room in the FY10 budget next year. He would like to make the theater arts position full-time and add a dance program. An additional campus monitor is also needed as the one currently employed “can’t be everywhere at once.” ∆


© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito