MURSD's 2012 MCAS Results & Accountability Status

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 0 Comments A + a -

Last Monday night I gave to the Regional School Committee a presentation on how our students did on the latest round of MCAS (Massachusetts Common Assessment Program) tests in English language arts, mathematics, and science.  As you probably know, these high-stakes tests are administered each spring to all students in grades 3-8 and 10.

Below is the slideshow that I presented in approximately a half hour.  To be clear... I realize that an 86-slide PowerPoint is less than ideal!  However, there is a great deal of data and so much that is new with regard to how the state is now classifying schools and districts, it merits some degree of explanation.

A few thoughts on the actual results. They were mixed, as at some grade levels and tests there was growth and at others there were declines from the 2011 results.  You will note that I only presented the last four years of results, even though we have been administering the MCAS well over 10 years and over that time span the MURSD has made some tremendous gains.  I presented only the last four years because under the state's new accountability system, only the results of the past four years are used to determine a school and district's classification.  If you look at our district's aggregate performance (all 1,443 students that were tested in 2012) over that four-year span, it is static in ELA (78% proficient or higher) and has increased by 3% in mathematics (from 64% to 67% proficient or higher).  Additionally, we showed significant growth in science testing, as the results of the tested grades of 5, 8, and 10 showed respective gains of 11%, 7%, and 5% in that four-year span.

An enormous change this year is the new accountability system where new targets have been presented for all schools due to the state's recent waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Instead of incremental targets toward the goal of 100% proficiency in 2013-14, the state now is using a system known as PPI or the Progress and Performance Index.  This complex metric gives each school and district a rating of 1-100 using multiple measures, including our aggregate scores on the MCAS, our aggregate student growth percentiles (SGP) (a measure of how much a student has grown from the previous year), the district's dropout rate, and the district graduation rate.  To be considered on target, each school and district must have a PPI value of 75 or higher.  For 2012, the MURSD has a PPI of 77.  However, under this new system, all of the significant subgroups (e.g., students with disabilities, disadvantaged students, English language learners, etc.) must also have a PPI value of 75. For the MURSD, our high needs subgroup has a PPI value of 73.

Based upon this new system, the district (and each school) must work to close the "proficiency gap," i.e., the difference in performance between all students and those in the high needs subgroups, by at least half by the year 2017.  Thus, for each school, the performance targets for each school and the district on a whole have been very clearly laid out for all MCAS testing from this coming spring to 2017.

Based upon the four-year performance, the new system classifies each school from Level 1 (the best in Meeting all Targets) to Level 5 (needing the most assistance).  Clough has been labeled as a Level 1 school while Memorial, Miscoe, and Nipmuc have been classified as Level 2 (Working to Meet all Targets).  The system deems that the district must be classified as the same as its lowest school, hence the MURSD is a Level 2 district.  As the slides also indicate, the MURSD outperformed all of the districts in the Blackstone Valley using the new PPI metric and is in the middle of the pack when comparing it to similar demographic and sized districts.  While there is variability for the reasons of Memorial, Miscoe, and Nipmuc having their classifications of Level 2, the fact remains that we must do more in the MURSD to meet address the learning of our students with the greatest needs.

We have much complex work ahead within our four schools, and in all four schools in may look different.  It starts with disaggregating this wealth of data to better inform how well our curriculum and instruction are actually working.  At the elementary levels we must ensure instructional fidelity to the well-established reading and mathematics curriculum.  At both the elementary and secondary levels we must carefully examine how we are delivering special education services, and possibly change the model to ensure that all students are getting the appropriate grade level content they need.

The MCAS is only one measure of our performance, but it is an important snapshot.  I would like to see more robust gains, but in light of the programmatic and staffing cuts that the district has sustained during a good portion of that four-year span, the results are not unexpected.  I know that our teachers- the heart of our operation- are committed to a district-wide culture of continuous improvement.

The district can and will do better.