With a steady drumbeat of news in recent weeks about student test scores in Vineyard public schools, it feels a little like Lake Wobegon around here lately, where all the children are above average.
But at least where results from both the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) are concerned, this is no fictional tale.
MCAS scores released early last month showed Vineyard students for the most part kept pace with or outperformed their state peers in core curricular subject areas of reading, math and science.
Then last week the regional high school guidance department reported that this year’s graduating class — the same group of students that set records on MCAS tests two years ago — turned in the best scores in the history of the school on the SAT. Students in the class of 2013 outperformed all previous classes as well as many of their peers statewide.
Congratulations to the Vineyard students and their teachers for all their hard work and this outstanding performance.
Test scores are only one part of the story of the Vineyard public schools, which have been fortunate in many ways: dedicated, talented teachers, parents who volunteer their time to serve on committees and help out with enrichment programs, and well-rounded students with wide-ranging interests in and out of school. Also, the seasonal property tax base on the Island has historically translated to generous funding for the public schools, since the year-round population demands proportionately less in the way of public services than, say, a suburban community in the Greater Boston area. And Vineyard schools are expensive — a statewide report released by the Boston Globe recently showed that per-pupil spending on the Island ranked among the highest in the state.
Those costs will be under public scrutiny in the weeks ahead as the regional school committee prepares another budget for the coming year this month and next. Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss has already released a draft of his own budget which includes shared services for the entire school system such as special needs education, where spending has seen a steep upward curve in recent years. That budget comes before the all-Island school committee for review on Monday.
Quality, comprehensive education costs money and on the Vineyard it’s an accepted way of life that everything is more expensive. But that doesn’t mean a blank check. During this school budget season, Island taxpayers will no doubt be looking for a clear and frank evaluation of staffing levels and spending needs that shows that the top administrators have done their homework just as thoroughly as their high-achieving students.