Wednesday September 19, 2012

The 2012 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam scores for local schools and districts across the commonwealth will be re leased today, and with them comes a new state-developed system of metrics for monitoring and rating the levels of progress by student, by school and by district.

The change is due to a flexibility waiver that the state received this year from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, whose goal was to have all public school students in the United States achieve a level of "proficient" or better on state standardized exams by 2014.

"An admirable goal but it was just not practical," said Ed ward W. Costa II, superintendent of Lenox Public Schools who also serves on the state board for school superintendents.

The key changes are as follows:

n The NCLB goal of having 100 percent of students performing at a proficient level has been replaced with the new state goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half by the 2016-17 school year.

n The NCLB accountability status labels -- "identified for improvement," "corrective ac tion," and "restructuring" -- have been eliminated. The state’s new rating system in cludes five levels of accountability classification and assistance.

n The benchmark known as "Adequate Yearly Progress" or "AYP" is being replaced with a new metric called the "Prog ress and Performance Index" or "PPI," which measures annual and cumulative growth over four years.

Individual schools and districts throughout Berkshire County and the state are planning to send letters home to parents and create public presentations to offer more transparency and explanation about these changes.

Costa, a self-proclaimed critic of the former NCLB rating system said he applauds the state’s decision to take a new approach.

"I think the new rating system still maintains accountability but is a kinder and gentler way to approach it. It has simplified how we understand accountability but raised the bar to where we’re supposed to be," he said.

Over the summer, Costa said every school administrator in Berkshire County attended a workshop with state officials that detailed the new accountability system step-by-step and also explained the new teacher and administrator evaluation system for the state.

Other noticeable changes in the new accountability system include the designation of a new "high needs" subgroup -- an unduplicated count of students who are classified in the low-income, students with disabilities, English language learner/former English language learner cohorts.

School growth percentiles will be expressed relative to other schools in the same grade span. For example, schools with grades 6 through 12 will be compared with other combined middle-high schools in the state.

Peter Dillon, superintendent of Berkshire Hills Regional School District, said that the data reported through the new system of accountability will offer schools and districts "more clarity about where to close gaps [in learning]" and help schools revise and improve instruction in a timely fashion, versus after the fact.

"It’s possible the new system will get us to look at trends over the years and encourage us to do really deep work to address those trends instead of trying to apply a quick fix in one year to boost scores. We’ll have a better sense of this after we do it for a few years," Dillon said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink