The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 14, 2008

Carlisle School seeks MCAS improvements for grades 4, 5, and 6

In an effort to boost scores on the fourth, fifth and sixth grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests, students will be trained in techniques for “open response” questions. Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle presented the school’s MCAS results at the November 5 Carlisle School Committee meeting. (The presentation can be viewed at:; see also “State releases Carlisle School MCAS results,” Mosquito, October 3.)

The superintendent’s comparison of scores between the Carlisle School and 21 other schools indicated Carlisle ranked in the bottom fourth for those in grades 4, 5 and 6 (with the exception of sixth-grade math). “The students appear weaker there than in other grades,” explained Middle School Principal Joyce Mehaffey, but, she noted, they are being tested on an accumulation of knowledge from earlier grades as well as what is learned in the students’ current grades. “Clearly a foundation is being built, but it needs to be stronger. We are doing a really good job by seventh and eighth grade, but we are not happy with what is happening in the intermediate grades.”

Doyle noted the improvement in fourth-grade math over previous years and attributes the improvement to the math curriculum review and a focus on open response questions on the math MCAS.

Mehaffey said grade level team meetings are being held to discuss strategies for strengthening students’ skills in open response questions. This type of question, which appears in ELA, Math and Science tests, requires students to read a passage, and write a short essay in response to criteria specified in the question. The responses are graded on a scale from zero to four. Students have lost points in their responses when they have not addressed all the criteria in the question, even if their response is well written. “It is not creative writing,” said Mehaffey.

Five staff members attended an assessment conference recently, reported Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley. “That conference ... really pulled together all the things we have been talking about in terms of helping our students with writing,” she explained. “It was a wonderful conference.” Hurley said that the techniques learned will be used to assess how well students are learning to answer open response questions. Doyle said that students need to “learn how to take the writing test.” They need to be taught how to get all four points on an open response question, and not to put in their own opinions when they write.

Committee member Louis Salemy commented, “I’m very concerned we are teaching to the test.” CSC member Dale Ryder commented about the middle grades, “Parents would say that there’s not enough focus on teaching kids how to write.” Committee member Bill Fink suggested parents should “encourage their kids to read and should read to their kids.”

Salemy requested a presentation from Literacy Specialists, Steve Bober and Susan LaPorte, on the work they are doing to support improvement in the open response questions. “You want the school performing at its highest level,” he said. Doyle replied she was optimistic students’ scores would improve. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito