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MCAS scores trending up
September 17, 2012
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICEStudents’ standardized test
scores are trending upward and the persistent achievement gap between certain demographic groups is closing, according to the Massachusetts Department of Early and Secondary Education.
“I would like to start by saying we’re making pretty good progress,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. He also said, “We have a lot more work to do.”
In 1998, when the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam was first administered, only 38 percent of students received an advanced or proficient score in the English portion and only 24 percent received an advanced or proficient score on the math portion. In the spring 2012 exam, 88 percent of 10th graders reached that score in English and 78 percent in math.
“We are comparing apples to apples when we look at the 1998 results compared to now,” Chester told the News Service. “We’ve been very careful in Massachusetts to maintain the same standards.”
Sixty-nine percent of 10th graders scored advanced or proficient on the science, technology and engineering MCAS.
Chester said that Massachusetts is considering shifting the 10th grade exams so that they better reflect the expectations that employers and higher education institutions might have.
“It’s not simply a question of should we raise the bar; it’s a question of should we be more deliberate about giving students signals about their readiness for after high school,” Chester said, saying a prototype of that type of test would be used in the spring of 2014.
The MCAS tests are given to students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10. Since 2001, the high school sophomores taking the test have been required to pass the math and English portions in order to graduate. Since 2010, 10th graders have been required to pass the science and technology test as well. Last spring, 86 percent of 10th graders met the minimum requirements to graduate in 2014.
“I commend our students and teachers for the hard work that went into making these impressive scores possible,” said Gov. Deval Patrick in a statement. “I am proud of the progress we have made, but won’t be satisfied until we close the achievement gap and all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Over a three-year period, some strides were made among nearly all demographic groups, such as African-American, low-income students, students who are still learning English and Latino students.
“These results continue a trend of improvement for all of those groups and in many cases that improvement is outstripping the improvement we’re seeing in general and narrowing the achievement gap,” Chester said.
That gap is still wide in many areas, however. The percentage of white 10th graders who passed all three tests was 92 percent, while the percentage of African Americans was 73 percent, the percentage of Latinos was 67, the percentage of low-income students was 75 percent, and the percentage of English language learners was 43. Students with disabilities passed all three exams at a rate of 60 percent.
The spring 2012 MCAS results alarmed advocates of third-grade reading improvement, who helped push through legislation that was sent to the governor on Monday, aimed at boosting early childhood literacy.
“We should all be alarmed that 39 percent of third graders are not proficient readers and that Massachusetts has made virtually no progress in third grade reading over the past decade. We should all be concerned about the wide and persistent achievement gap. We know what to do to improve children’s literacy. We must act now on this knowledge,” said Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All in a statement.
O’Leary said, “Research finds that one in six children who struggled with reading in third grade do not finish high school by age 19. The average high school dropout in Massachusetts costs taxpayers an estimated $349,000 more over his/her lifetime in lower tax revenues and higher public assistance costs than the average high school graduate. Massachusetts simply cannot afford to have close to 40% of our children leave third grade without becoming successful readers.”
Third-grade English scores have improved 5 percent over the past five years, one of seven MCAS categories to have a 5 percent or greater improvement from 2008. The biggest improvement was in 10th grade English and science, which was up 13 percent and 12 percent from 2008.
As part of the state’s effort to increase the quality of education at some of the worst-performing schools, Patrick signed a reform bill in 2010 that freed up superintendents to dictate policy within their district.
Patrick made efforts to improve underperforming schools a highlight of his speech before the Democratic National Convention, when he singled out Orchard Gardens in Roxbury as a school that had made improvements, partially through the lengthening of the school day. Patrick will announce the school and district level MCAS results on Wednesday from a school in Worcester.
Those results released Wednesday will feature a new metric of measuring student improvement, as the state has abandoned the “adequate yearly progress” model, Chester said. He said the new goal for schools is to basically cut in half the number of students who are not passing the MCAS by the 2016 to 2017 school year.