The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School class of 2008 scored significantly above the statewide average on the mathematics portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test, and scored well above average in English language arts, according to results released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Statewide, 88 per cent of tenth grade students passed the math section, while 97 per cent of students at the regional high school passed. And while the state average for passing the English section was 93 per cent this year, 98 per cent passed at the regional high school. The students took the test last spring.
"For me, the most impressive thing is that 97 per cent of youngsters passed the math exam," Vineyard schools superintendent James H. Weiss said this week. "If you look at our high school program, the folks have worked very hard on the program of mathematics."
Test results for the Martha's Vineyard Charter School were not released because there were only five tenth grade students in the school last year. A 10-student minimum is required to release aggregate scores.
Not only did the regional high school score nearly as high in math as in English - there is usually a significant gap between the scores statewide - a higher percentage of girls than boys earned a score of proficient or better on the math section. This is considered unusual and surprised both Mr. Weiss and regional high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan.
Four scoring categories are possible for students who take the MCAS test: advanced, proficient, needs improvement and failing. The first three are passing grades. An identical percentage of boys and girls at the regional high school passed the math section, but the percentage of girls that scored advanced or proficient was five points higher - 81 per cent among the girls versus 76 per cent among the boys. Eight per cent more girls than boys received advanced scores. Statewide, the number of boys and girls that scored proficient or better on the math section was equal this year.
In English, there was a gender disparity in achievement, both statewide and at the regional high school. Although the percentage of students that scored proficient or better in English was higher at the regional high school than it was statewide, the disparity was identical: 10 per cent more girls scored advanced or proficient in English than boys.
A passing grade on the MCAS test has been a graduation requirement for students since 2001, and a high score can qualify a student for the John and Abigail Adams scholarship - a tuition waiver for eight semesters of undergraduate education at state colleges and universities. The students who qualify are announced their senior year. Among this year's seniors who took the MCAS test in 2005, nearly 50 qualified.
The test, which is by strict definition an assessment of curriculum, creates high stakes for school systems, which stand to lose funding if their performance falls below state standards. More importantly, schools must show progress - and the bar is raised every two years. This is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In addition to scoring well above state averages this year, the regional high school satisfied its required annual yearly progress. The scores exceeded next year's projected raised requirements too. Year after year, the percentage of regional high school students failing either section of the MCAS test has gone down - and the percentage of students scoring proficient or higher has gone up.
"We're really very pleased," Mr. Weiss said. "Both English language arts and math were ahead of the state and the results show things are really falling into place for our high school students. They're doing extremely well."
The special education test scores were dramatically higher than state averages. Of the roughly 50 special education students tested, only 4 per cent failed English and 4 per cent failed math. Statewide, 25 per cent of special education students failed English and nearly 40 per cent failed math. The scores at the regional high school also indicated particular strength in math - 2 per cent of the special education students scored in the advanced category for English while over 25 per cent scored in the advanced category for math.
This discrepancy has led Mr. Weiss to encourage strengthening the English curriculum for special education students. Mrs. Regan said she will look to improve English scores for all students.
Although school-wide the students performed higher than the state average in English, a breakdown of subjects within the English language arts section shows that the regional high school scored slightly lower than the state in one of the three categories: composition.
"This is part of the reason we have this reading and writing initiative," Mrs. Regan said, referring to a program introduced this year at the regional high school and Islandwide. "We should be able to score above the state level for composition."
There are two composition sections on the test - topic development and standard English conventions - and tenth graders at the regional high school scored below the state average on both. The average composition score was the equivalent of a 75 out of 100, while the state's composition average was a 76.
Students who failed the math or English portion of the test must retake it until they pass, or they will not receive a high school diploma at graduation. Now in their junior year, students in the class of 2008 who failed one or both portions - a total of eight students - will have six chances to take the test again before graduating.
Five students in the school passed English and failed math, while two students passed math and not English. Mrs. Regan said that students who pass math but not English are almost always students for whom English is a second language.
Further breakdown of the failing scores at the regional high school shows that all of the students were close to the cut-off for passing - especially in math.
The state board of education may vote next month to raise the score necessary to pass the test. A needs-improvement score would be a failing grade. By 2014, all schools in Massachusetts are expected to have 100 per cent of students passing the test with scores of proficient or better - a goal that many people who work in school systems say is impossible.
Although it is unclear what this means for the future, Mr. Weiss and Mrs. Regan have a positive outlook.
"The philosophy of the MCAS is measured progress - you compete against yourself," Mrs. Regan said. "Basically we're trying to inch them up the continuum."
Mr. Weiss agreed. "What we want to see is what's the trend over time," he said. "The trend at the high school has been positive."