School Committee Concerned Over Declining MCAS Scores
Tewksbury drops to a ranking of sixth in Merrimack Valley
Teaching to the test was a concern echoed by several School Committee members during their MCAS workshop meeting on Wednesday at Wynn School.
As school department officials see their district continue slipping, from above average, when the tests were first introduced, to below average in some areas now, many were left wondering where the education went wrong.
"My fear back then has come to fruition," School Committee member Joe Russell said. "We're being forced to teach to the test.".
Russell commented about how excited they were when the test first came out.
"We were so far ahead of everybody, we don't have that far to go," he said, adding that the most recent test scores generate much different feelings. "We're below, we were always above, now were down and I look at that and think the test in not doing what it should be doing."
Tewksbury has slipped from third, when the test first began, to sixth place in the Merrimack Valley.
In her report, assistant superintendent Loreen Bradley charted MCAS scores in Tewksbury over a twelve-year period. The report outlined the goal of "driving up" the numbers in advanced and proficient categories and "driving down" the numbers in the needs improvement and warning/failing category. In the past twelve years the district has had an overall gain of 22.67 percent in the advanced and proficient categories, while at the same down decreases the needs improvement and warning/failing by 23.17 percent.
School committee member Krissy Polimeno said that although there was progress in the scores, she was still concerned and felt there was a need for improvement. She wanted to know what methods were being put in place to address the issues and help the students.
Bradley explained several initiatives implemented into the schools to help address areas with low scoring. One of the newest initiative was the "Go Math" and "Math in Focus" pilot programs being used in the elementary schools. Other initiatives include; a six week MCAS prep class at the elementary level, Story Town reading program at lowest taught levels, extended math block at the Ryan School, and prep classes at the high school. Bradley also suggested the possibility of co-teaching practices in the elementary levels, having students not be allowed to take a foreign language in high school until they pass the English language arts portion of the MCAS, and the possibility of Looping classes at the elementary level.
"We have to think outside the box, see what we have and see what we can massage differently," Bradley said.
The committee was also concerned that some areas were being "neglected" in the sense that they were not getting as much instructional need as others because they were not major components tested in MCAS. The consistent budget cuts and lack of funding also could not be overlooked as possible elements creating declining scores.
"It feels like a unfunded mandate to teach to a test constrained by resources," committee Chair Michael Kelley said.
Superintendent John O'Connor wanted to make it clear that as a whole the district was not that bad, "in a lot of areas we are doing very well."
"In five out of two grades we exceed the state average," he said.
However, he did explore how math has continued to be an issue in third through eighth grade, with four grades below the state average. "Overall we are doing well, in areas that we are not, we know we need to improve."
O'Connor also admitted that they are teaching to the test, as so encouraged by the Department of Education.
"The test is based on state standards, we take that and build the curriculum around them to measure our curriculum, not student standards," he added. "If only 18 percent of students answer correctly, then (the subject) is not being taught well."
With the new state standard that every student must score proficient by 2014, he said he anticipates scores will go down as the bar goes up and the school tries to keep pace.
"We are on an uphill climb with room for improvement," he said. "I think we are headed in the right direction."
A parent MCAS information night will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 at the Wynn Middle School.