Scores Improve on MCAS Test

High School Tops State Average in Both Math and English; Lower Grades Also See Strong Exam Results

By ALEXIS TONTI

The results are in from the spring round of MCAS testing, and students at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School again posted strong scores on the rigorous exam required by the state for graduation.

Ninety-two per cent of Vineyard high school sophomores passed the English exam, while 94 per cent passed the math exam, surpassing statewide averages.

"I'm thrilled with how the kids did, especially with mathematics - there was incredible improvement," Vineyard high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said yesterday. "We had more kids score in the advanced level and more come out of the failure level into the needs improvement level.

"Now we want to see them push themselves harder," she declared.

The results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System were released by the state Department of Education on Thursday.

High school juniors now have three more chances to pass the test before receiving their diplomas in 2006.

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Massachusetts uses a four-tier scoring system for the MCAS exams. Students who score in the top three tiers - advanced, proficient and in need of improvement - pass the exam, while students who fall into the fourth tier fail.

Mrs. Regan noted that while the overall results for the high school are good, there was some backsliding by students from the proficient level into the needs improvement level. She said the shift may be the result of students doing only as well as they need to to meet graduation requirements.

"We need to come up with a reason for them to want to push themselves to that next level. Our SAT scores are continuing to climb, so that shows that when there is a personal stake in the score the kids do very well," Mrs. Regan said.

"We need to look at local incentives for kids getting into the proficient and advanced areas. Some state colleges offer scholarship money for kids who do well, but that's about it," she said.

"It is really something that our school council needs to talk about more and our school committee needs to be informed about," she added.

The MCAS was first administered in 1998, but this is only the third year that students must pass the test to graduate from high school. Students in the third through eighth grades Islandwide also take MCAS subject tests. Their scores are used by Vineyard educators to gauge student proficiency in the context of the state's prescribed curriculum.

The MCAS exams are also used as a tool by the state to demonstrate compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which calls on schools to show annual academic progress with their students.

The federal law, passed three years ago, requires that all students test at a proficient level on the MCAS exams by 2014.

Looking at the high school scores, it is clear there is work to do to bring students in line with the stricter federal standard: Six per cent of the 204 sophomores tested failed the math exam, with 24 per cent needing improvement. Eight per cent of the 203 students tested failed the English test, with 26 per cent needing improvement.

Mrs. Regan said that while the change in requirements is still a decade away, the Vineyard schools must work now to bring all students up to the advanced or proficient levels.

"It's our mission for the year," she said.

This year students who speak English as a second language were required to take the exam because of changes in state and federal law. Previously, students with limited English speaking skills received exemptions.

That change may be responsible for the drop in the English scores of fourth-graders in the down-Island schools. Eight per cent of Edgartown students failed the exam; six per cent of Oak Bluffs students failed and eight per cent of Tisbury students failed.

Comparisons from one year to the next are difficult because a different set of students is tested each time, but in this case the change is striking: No elementary students in the down-Island schools failed the English test last year.

The fourth-grade English results were about on par with the same students' performances in math. Six per cent of Edgartown students failed, six per cent of Oak Bluffs students failed and five per cent of Tisbury students failed.

For two of the schools, the results mark an improvement: last year Edgartown saw 14 per cents of its students fail, while Tisbury had 10 per cent fail. Oak Bluffs, however, had no students fail the test last year.

Up-Island, no West Tisbury students failed the English test, and nine per cent failed the math test. Too few were tested in Chilmark or the charter school to be statistically significant.

Seventh grade English test takers posted a stronger performance, with none failing in Edgartown, Tisbury or West Tisbury and only two per cent failing in Oak Bluffs. The charter school also had no failures.

Eighth grade students overall were shaky in math.

In Edgartown 60 per cent of students either failed or rated as needing improvement; in Oak Bluffs 48 per cent of students fell into those categories, while in Tisbury the number was 30 per cent. In West Tisbury 34 per cent of students fell into those categories, along with 28 per cent of students at the charter school.