MCAS results show gains

Friday September 17, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Though Berkshire County schools still have much work to do, this week's release of recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) results included some hallmarks of achievement.

To begin with, four area schools were among the 187 newly named "Commendation Schools" in the state: Berkshire Arts & Tech-nology Charter Public School (BArT) in Adams, Craneville Elementary School in Dalton, and Pittsfield's John T. Reid Middle School and Silvio O. Conte Community School. The designation was introduced this year as a way to recognize schools for their academic growth and success in closing achievement gaps.

In addition, Pittsfield High School was listed among the 10 high schools in the state with the biggest combined in-crease in the percent of students performing at either proficient or ad-vanced levels.

Preliminary results of the tests, administered to students in the spring, were released in June. This week's results reflect a more specific breakdown of how schools and districts performed on a number of criteria.

BArT yielded particularly good results, earning commendations for both high growth and narrowing proficiency gaps. For the first time in the school's history, BArT met all its required benchmark scores set by the federal government on the MCAS English language arts and mathematics tests. The federal government uses these two sets of test scores, in addition to attendance figures and other student demographics to determine whether a school is making adequate yearly progress, or "AYP."

Of the 47 public schools in Berkshire County, 11 met all of their AYP benchmarks in all categories, both for their overall student populations as well as for individual student populations, such as low-income and special needs students. No schools in the county were listed in a complete failing status.

Julia Bowen, executive director for BArT, said she was pleased about the state's new commendation system -- and with the school's results.

"We know we have a great program here and it's nice to be commended for it," she said. "One of the ways [we use our test and AYP results] is to motivate students. It's an objective way to show hard work pays off. But from a numbers perspective, this data is definitely part of a bigger picture."

Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III agreed.

"MCAS is the floor, not the ceiling," he said.

The district will make a presentation on Pittsfield's specific test scores and AYP results at Wednesday's School Committee meeting. In November, Eberwein said, the schools will have the opportunity to analyze how the results fit into each individual school's improvement plan.

Eberwein said the MCAS results also translate directly into how the district develops classroom instruction and curriculum, as well as in finding ways to develop 21st-century thinking skills in students.

"At the beginning of the year we set a very broad goal to have all students graduate high school, ready to further their education," said Eberwein.

In addition, the district will be looking at four indicators: reading performance at Grade 3, Grade 7 writing assessments, Grade 8 algebra skills and the state's MassCore curriculum of suggested high school graduation requirements for college readiness.

What Pittsfield and BArT are doing are only some of the examples of ways schools in Berkshire County and across the state are looking to raise student achievement and aspirations, all in hopes of meeting the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) goals of having all students be high-performing by the year 2014, using AYP benchmarks for measurement.

As highlighted in this week's news and academic reports, despite the successes heralded through the new Commendation Schools program, 57 percent of schools in the state, 982 schools, were identified as needing some form of improvement since they did not make AYP for two or more years consecutively.

Robert Putnam, assistant su-perintendent for the Dalton-based Central Berkshire Regional School District, echoed state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester's sentiments that with each year NCLB progresses, the bar continues to be raised and the stakes and standards increase.

"With AYP is that it takes two years to get into a status and two years to get out," said Putnam.

For example, Craneville Elementary School had to get all students to meet an English language arts goal of scoring in the 90.2 percentile, and the 84.3 percentile for math; the school met the math mark but not the English mark this past spring. Nevertheless, in spring 2011, the targets will increase to 95.1 in English and 92.2 in math.

"You can always make AYP by improving, but AYP data is not what's helpful to schools," Putnam said. "The assessment data which comes each year however, if used appropriately, can be used to help schools, to measure growth, to see where teachers have brought their students from the time they were brought into a school."

Commendation Schools:

Silvio O. Conte Community School, Pittsfield, acknowledged for exiting a 2009 accountability status.

John T. Reid Middle School, Pittsfield, acknowledged for narrowing proficiency gaps

Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School, Adams, acknowledged for both high growth and narrowing proficiency gaps

Craneville Elementary School, Dalton, acknowledge for exiting a 2009 accountability status.


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