State Issues MCAS Scores for Vineyard

Island Educators Will Evaluate Results of Sixth Annual Testing Round in Island Public Schools

By ALEXIS TONTI

Results are in from another year of MCAS testing, challenging school leaders yet again to sort through the statistics and evaluate where teachers are getting it right and where they may be coming up short.

Superintendent of schools Dr. Kriner Cash said yesterday it will take time to wade through all the numbers, which were released Wednesday by the state Department of Education. He meets with principals from the Island schools today to begin their assessment.

"Our goal is not to compare schools," Mr. Cash said. "We look for themes. We see if there are particular areas Islandwide that have made continual improvements or which need to make improvements."

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He added that identifying trends allows them to determine how to improve the school system. "There are implications for how we may adjust curriculum and instruction at individual schools and Islandwide," he said.

The MCAS was first administered in 1998. Last year, however, was the first time the high-stakes test served as a requirement for high school graduation. Mr. Cash pointed out that the high school is ahead of the state average graduation rate. "The bottom line is helping kids to succeed," he said.

This year the state switched its method of posting results. Previously they used average scaled scores, which allowed number-crunchers at newspapers such as the Boston Globe to develop statewide rankings for schools. That kind of overall comparison is difficult for 2003 because of the new proficiency index. Now the state only lists scores as percentages that fall into four categories: advanced, proficient, needs improvement and failing.

The change is designed to bring the testing system in line with the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. The federal law, passed two years ago, requires all students to reach the proficient category by 2014. Each state has to develop its own index to ensure schools and students are making progress.

Students, however, do still receive raw scores, so educators can pinpoint areas of weakness in a school curriculum.

Students in third through eighth grades and in grade 10 all took at least one portion of the MCAS test last spring. Fifth and eighth-graders were tested for the first time in science. Tests in just one subject can last up to three days, requiring students to sit for more than 20 hours of testing in some cases.

At the elementary level, results were not prepared for every Island school. More than 10 students must take a test for the numbers to be statistically viable.

Comparing the results from one year to another is tricky, because a different set of students takes the test. Nor is it possible to compare one elementary school to another due to differences in enrollment and curriculum. But the overall trend for Vineyard schools is easy to see: strong numbers in English and more anemic performances in math - right in line with last year's results.

Fourth-graders had significant difficulty with numbers, with 14 per cent of Edgartown students failing; in Tisbury 10 per cent failed and in West Tisbury six per cent. None of the Oak Bluffs students fell into the lowest tier, although the school joined the others in posting a high percentage of students who need improvement. In both Edgartown and West Tisbury, that number topped 50 per cent.

Those numbers are particularly striking when put next to the same students' performances in English: No one failed at the down-Island elementary schools, and only three per cent of West Tisbury students did.

In seventh grade the English scores continued strong. The down-Island schools, West Tisbury and the charter school all had more than 60 per cent of their students test as proficient.

But for eighth-graders testing in math, the results again were shaky: In Oak Bluffs, 20 per cent of students failed the exam, while in Tisbury 10 per cent of students fell into the lowest tier. The charter school, which had no results for fourth-graders, saw 27 per cent of its class fail.

At the high school where the pressure is on, only 11 per cent of the 195 sophomores tested failed the math exam, with 21 per cent needing improvement. That's about even with the 10th-grade performance in English: only nine per cent of the 194 students tested failed, with 24 per cent needing improvement.

For those who need remedial work, there's still plenty of time. Juniors have four more chances to pass the test to receive their diplomas by 2005.

"They're doing a great job up there, especially considering that the results are comprehensive," Mr. Cash said. "Each year the failure rate decreases and the number of advanced and proficient students increases. That's really commendable."