EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 22, 2013

Methuen credits prep program for 10th grade MCAS gains

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — MCAS scores in the city’s schools improved in most categories last year, including large gains in passing the crucial 10th grade test required for graduation.

The percentage of Methuen students passing in English and math jumped by double digits compared with last year, and those passing the science and engineering portion improved by 8 percent, according to data the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released Friday.

“We are very happy to see increases in the our 10th grade MCAS performance in ELA, Math and Science,” said Superintendent Judith Scannell.

Compared with last year, the percentage of Methuen high sophomores passing the math portion of the MCAS this past spring, which is a score in the proficient or advanced categories, jumped by 14 points, from 59 to 73 percent, according to the data. The percentage passing the English portion rose 10 points, from 79 to 89 percent, and the percentage passing the new science and engineering portion rose 8 points, from 59 to 67 percent, according to data released on the state education department’s website.

Brandi Kwong, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the state database she has access to shows 74 percent of students passing the math section and 68 percent passing the science section. A different page on the state’s website also shows those slightly higher proportions.

Scannell credited a new MCAS prep program at the high school for the improvement. “Associate Principal Rich Barden worked tirelessly putting together an after-school MCAS prep program for our high school students that sometimes spilled over into Saturday mornings,” she said. “This was highly successful as you can see by the growth in our high school scores.”

Students are required to score at least in the proficient category in each section in 10th grade in order to graduate from high school. Those who do not make it can retake portions of the test to improve their scores.

Most students also showed modest improvement in the grammar school level compared with their colleagues last year, though third grade math scores jumped by 14 percentage points. Scores slipped in fifth grade science and engineering, sixth grade English and sixth grade math.

Students scoring in the highest category, advanced, increased at most levels, including all three subjects at the high school, while the proportion of students scoring in the lowest category, warning/failing, dropped at most levels in most subjects.

Methuen’s improvement largely followed the state trend, with scores improving compared with last year in most categories. While high school students statewide showed improvement, the jump was not as dramatic as here.

Scores here still are significantly behind the state average across the board, though the sharp increase in students’ scores in high school narrowed the gap to a few percentage points.

Massachusetts several years ago received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law and created a new system to measure school performance that leans heavily on improvement of students generally and of certain groups of students considered high need and on graduation rates.

All four grammar schools fall in level two, which means not all groups met their improvement targets, but the schools performed in the top 80 percentile of schools. Methuen High School was level three, which means it was in the lowest 20 percentile of similar schools, though not among the worst performers. The scale is five levels, with five being the worst.

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