School officials hope to establish baseline with latest MCAS results

By Douglas McCulloch | Oct 18, 2017
Courtesy of: Massachusetts Department of Education District-wide results for each test, with a graph displaying the grades 3-8 math results in Dartmouth compared to the state.

District officials are hopeful this year’s MCAS results will provide a solid baseline to better track student growth and performance with the state’s new “next generation” assessment system.

Last year, students at the middle and elementary school levels took what educators have been calling “MCAS 2.0” – a computer-based redesign of the standardized testing used to gauge student performance and school growth – with the exception of the science and technology subject in the fifth and eighth grades, which used the old legacy system.

Since it’s so new and includes major changes and even different results measurements, officials cannot use data to compare growth or student improvement from years past, explained Superintendent Bonny Gifford on October 18, the day results came in.

Instead, officials will be looking at how Dartmouth students performed compared to students across the state, and will identify areas to focus on in meetings with teams of administrators and teachers, Gifford said.

At DeMello Elementary School, the percentage of students in the top two grading categories – exceeding expectations or meeting expectations – was above the state average in each grade and subject. Potter Elementary School students did not place at or above the state average in any of the next-generation testing subjects across all grade levels.

At Quinn Elementary School, students in the meeting or exceeding expectations categories only lagged behind the state average in fourth grade English language arts, at 40 percent compared to 48 percent statewide.

At the middle school, results fell below the state average in seventh and eighth grade English language arts – at 39 percent compared to 50 percent at the seventh grade level and 49 percent at the eighth grade level, respectively. Results in all other categories either met or exceeded the statewide average.

In the elementary and middle school level science and technology test, which used the legacy system, the number of fifth graders who finished with either a proficient or advanced score fell below the state average at Quinn and Potter, but was above the state average at DeMello. The number of middle schoolers finishing with a proficient or higher was nine percent above the state average of 40.

District-wide, grades four, seven, and eight English language arts dipped below the state average, while all other subject areas and grade levels that took the new test remained at or above the state average. Grade five science and technology and engineering was two percentage points below the state average.

The new next-generation system follows several years of major changes to standardized testing within the distract and state. Starting in 2015, elementary and middle school students took the PARCC test. That continued in 2016, only Quinn students took a computerized version. All the while, high school students remained on the original paper-based MCAS.

In 2016, the state abandoned its efforts to introduce PARCC as a new testing standard, and developed a new standard referred to as “MCAS 2.0.”

The only school still taking the legacy paper-based MCAS test is Dartmouth High School. Tenth graders won’t switch to the new computer-based test until 2019, which allows administrators to gauge improvement from last year.

In English language arts, the percentage of students placing at a proficient or higher level dipped by one point from 96 to 95 and science and technology/engineering results fell two points from 87 to 85. Gifford said that the results more or less stayed consistent between last year and this year.

The most significant improvement, however, is in mathematics. The number of students placing at proficient or higher improved by four percent to 85 percent. Gifford was happy to see that result, as officials focused on improving mathematics education at the high school last year.

The school introduced a year-long algebra course, worked with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to analyze curriculum data, and added more learning support for students struggling in math.

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