Student 'growth scores' focused on in wake of low MCAS results

By Matthew Bernat | Oct 05, 2016

When it comes to MCAS testing, there’s more than one way to measure achievement said administrators and principals at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting.

“I think all measures are important,” said Dr. Andrea Schwamb, director of curriculum and instruction. “Neglecting any of them is dangerous. To assess how we do every year we can’t just look at achievement. That would be foolish because there’s a different group of students each year.”

The MCAS are statewide standardized tests designed to hold schools, districts, and students accountable for student performance in three core subjects: English, math and science and technology.

Across the district, students performed below the state average in all three subjects in the spring 2016 tests. The only exception was grade five scores in math, where the percentage of fourth graders scoring “proficient” or “advanced” topped the state average 49 percent to 47 percent.

Instead of dwelling on those lagging achievement scores, Schwamb stressed that student’s “student growth percentile” could also judge progress. Unlike the MCAS scores which only measure how a student performs in one year, growth reports indicate how much change there has been in achievement year to year. Those numbers, when taken in aggregate, show how a school performs. This method works independently of MCAS achievement levels.

This year, Schwamb and the principals from Wareham High School, Wareham Middle School and Minot Forest Elementary presented their student growth percentile scores.

While scores improved in those schools compared to last year, some were still lower than the 51 percent target number set by the state.

Wareham High School Principal Scott Palladino said math and English scores seesawed from 2014 to 2016.

In 2014, the student growth percentile for all students in math was 36 percent, but dropped to 27 percent in 2015. Palladino said this year the student growth percentile was 42 percent.

English student growth percentile scores were 55 percent in 2014, but dropped to 42.5 percent in 2015. This year, the student growth percentile was 59 percent.

Wareham Middle School Principal Peter Steedman addressed consistent decline in “composite performance index” science scores on the MCAS from 2014 to 2016. The composite performance index measures student progress towards proficiency in a subject.

In 2014, the composite performance index was 77.2 percent; it was 74.8 percent in 2015 and 69.8 percent in 2016.

Steedman said there is a plan in place to bring those scores up. He noted that many schools across the state experienced similar drops due to differences between curriculum and MCAS.

“There is now a transition plan in place for science,” said Steedman. “The Department of Education said they did see a dip in other middle schools across Massachusetts.”

Steedman also focused on climbing student growth percentile scores.

In 2015, the English student growth percentile was 37 percent and this year that number was 44 percent. Math scores rose from 30 percent in 2015 to 39 percent in 2016. The state target for the middle school remained the same at 51 percent.

“The changes we see in growth will eventually change into achievement,” said Steedman. “We know where the deficiencies lie and we understand our growth target needs to be 51.”

Of the schools, only Minot Forest Elementary scores were above the state target for this year.

Principal Joan Seamans said the English student growth percentile score was 48 percent in 2015 and 52 percent in 2016. Mathematics scores were impressive, jumping from 56 percent in 2015 to 60 percent in 2016.

“I don’t think any school has had as compelling [student growth percentile] results,” said committee member Geoff Swett.

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