By Mark Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Lawrence Public Schools made dramatic improvements during its first full year under state receivership, according to MCAS test results released yesterday by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
After several years of declining MCAS growth scores in English, students in the state’s most troubled public school district proved they are capable of doing much better.
Lawrence Public Schools exceeded its first year District Turnaround Plan goal of doubling the number of schools in which students outperform their academic peers. The district nearly tripled the number of schools doing so, as eight schools had a so-called Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of over 50 in both English and Math compared to three schools last year.
The percent of students district-wide scoring proficient or higher in mathematics increased between 2012 and 2013 by double-digits in grades 3, 8 and 10.
“These are strong results and a credit to the hard work and commitment of the students and educators of Lawrence,” said state Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “We set out to turn around chronic low performance in the district. There is still much work to do in Lawrence to ensure that all students are ready for success at the next level. But these early results demonstrate that the district’s accelerated turnaround strategies are providing schools with the necessary tools to improve outcomes.”
The school district doubled the number of Level 1 schools this year from two to four, with the Guilmette Elementary and Wetherbee School advancing into the top category in a five-level accountability system that measures performance. Schools designated as Level 1 are among the top 30 percent in the state.
This is the first time in three years that a Lawrence school hasn’t been downgraded to Level 4, the state’s lowest achieving and least improving schools. Lawrence had six of the state’s 43 Level 4 schools last year.
The district’s SGP for math rose from 40 percent to 57 percent over the past year, the highest ever recorded in the school district.
The SGP for English Language Arts increased to 47 percent, reversing a decline over the past three years.
“This is a good day for the city of Lawrence, and we owe thanks to too many people to count,” Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said.
“We’ve always recognized that turning around an entire school district in crisis is hard and it’s not always going to go as smoothly as we’d all like, but after 18 months of district-wide reorganization we think we’re on the right track,” Riley said.
“We’re extremely proud of all the hard work our teachers and students have put in, and just as grateful to the parents and community at large for the support that makes it possible. This is a terrific start on a long road back. Everyone here at LPS knows there’s a lot still to do,” he said.
Poor MCAS scores contributed to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s November 2011 decision to declare the city’s schools as the state’s only Level 5 “chronically underperforming” school district, a drastic move that led to the state takeover and Riley’s hiring.
Riley has a three and a half year contract, but has said it could take from five to eight years before Lawrence is able regain control of its school system again. The latest MCAS test scores are the first true measurement of improvements in academic performance under the receivership and the “Turnaround Plan” activated more than a year ago, he said.
Please see the Sunday Eagle-Tribune for a closer look at Lawrence's MCAS improvements.