Parsing MCAS results

Friday September 21, 2012

The Berkshire County MCAS results released Wednesday were the usual mixed bag, offering plenty to be encouraged about or worried about. The questions of whether or not MCAS actually encourages learning and measures anything beyond test-taking proficiency are no longer being asked, although the answers aren’t clear.

It’s also clear that MCAS isn’t going away. With the No Child Left Behind metric having been replaced by a new system in which the schools are rated at levels from 1 down to 5, the best news is that none of the county’s school districts are at the problematic 4 and 5 levels.

At the top level, where schools are meeting all the progress goals for students in terms not only of MCAS but graduation and dropout rates over a four-year period, are McCann Technical, Mount Greylock Regional and the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Technology School. BART’s 10th-grade scores in the three MCAS categories of English, math and science were particularly impressive. As long as the funding mechanism is fair and doesn’t penalize traditional public schools, charter schools like BART will have a future in Massachusetts.

Nine Berkshire County districts scored above the state MCAS average, and with the exception of North Adams’ McCann Technical, essentially a specialty school, the other eight were rural or suburban districts. If MCAS can be trusted to tell us something revealing it is telling us, not only here but across the state, that there is an ongoing achievement gap between urban students and their counterparts. It is alarming because public education should level the playing field and provide everyone with an equal chance to move on to college or succeed in the workplace.

Pittsfield, North Adams and Adams-Cheshire were the only Berkshire schools to place at Level 3, with Adams-Cheshire having some of the lowest test scores in the district and North Adams generally having larger achievement gaps than Pittsfield. Suburban districts often pay teachers better than do urban schools, but if the caliber of teachers is a factor in dramatically differing MCAS scores it isn’t likely to be the sole one. Class size is another.

Some studies have indicated that suburban parents are more actively involved in their schools and place a greater emphasis on homework and extracurricular reading. Education is not the sole responsibility of teachers. It begins at home.


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