The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test scores for 2006 were released yesterday, revealing a dramatic boost in the number of students scoring in the advance math category in North Andover.
Across the river in Lawrence is a different story, with many more students failing the test than last year.
North Andover's advanced scores soared above the state average, with 52 percent of the class of 2008 scoring in the top category compared with 40 percent statewide. The advanced math scores represent a 7 percent boost from last year.
"We're really happy with the results," said Assistant Superintendent Dick Bergeron, who credits Diane Bassett, the school math chief.
"She really does a great job keeping effective mathematics instruction on the front burner," Bergeron said.
Meanwhile, Lawrence High School remains far above the state average for the number of failing students with 35 percent in English and 54 percent in mathematics. The state failure averages are 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
There is a boost in the number of students failing in Lawrence from last year when 32 percent failed English and 46 percent failed math.
"This is not good," said James Vittorioso, a School Committee member. "Evidently, the methods they are using are not reaching these kids. I'll repeat this 1,000 times. Our kids are not stupid. The way we teach them is stupid."
Vittorioso said Lawrence has a special situation because of its large immigrant population.
"It's the transient population we have," he said. "We still have a lot of children who have not mastered the English language."
Across Massachusetts, MCAS numbers are improving for 10th-grade students.
Statewide, 84 percent of students in the class of 2008 passed both the English and math exams, up from 81 percent in 2005 and 68 percent in 2001, the first year 10th-graders took the test as a graduation requirement.
The biggest gains in the class of 2008 were made by nontraditional schools such as Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverhill, and black and Hispanic students, who closed the gap with their peers of other races. Black students improved 10 percentage points and Hispanics improved 8 percent.
David Driscoll, the state education commissioner, said in a statement that the numbers look good.
"For the first time I can say with confidence that our achievement gap is beginning to close in our high schools," he said, "and all students are moving in the right direction."
Whittier has the proud distinction of being the most improved school in the state.
On the English portion of the exam, 55 percent of Whittier students scored proficient and advanced, up from 41 percent last year. In math it was 76 percent, up from 46 percent last year.
Whittier's failure rates lagged behind only Andover, locally - only 5 percent failed English and 4 percent math at Whittier.
Superintendent Karen Sarkisian said just three years ago, only 26 percent of her students passed the test on their first try.
"The staff and the students should be very proud of their hard work," said Sarkisian, who calls the boost in scores since 2003 "dramatic."
The improvements can be credited, in part, to the school's testing laboratory, she said. Students have been taking sample test questions which are scored by a computer and determine where each individual is weakest. Teachers and tutors will work with the students on those problems.
Whittier draws students from Haverhill, Amesbury, Groveland, Ipswich, Merrimac, Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Salisbury and West Newbury.
The area's other vocational school, Greater Lawrence Technical High School, also improved with 85 percent of its students passing English and 63 passing mathematics. Last year, 24 percent failed English and 41 percent failed math.
Here is how other communities fared on the MCAS:
Andover High School: Again the top-scoring school in the area; 98 percent of its students passed English while 97 percent passed mathematics.
Advanced scores were above the Bay State average with 21 percent in English, 5 percent above the state average, and 68 percent in math, 28 percent above the state average.
Haverhill High School: Students saw gains with 90 percent passing English compared with 86 percent last year, and 79 percent passing math compared with 63 percent last year.
"We're very proud," said Steven O'Brien, assistant superintendent of curriculum. He attributes the better scores to a greater focus on math in both the high and middle schools.
There was a significant dip in the advanced English category at Haverhill High, with just 6 percent reaching the top level compared with 14 percent of this year's seniors.
"We're looking at that actually," O'Brien said on an internal study to determine the drop.
Methuen High School: The number of students failing the MCAS is dropping, from 11 percent in English and 18 percent in math last year to 7 percent and 17 percent this year, respectively.
"That is very good," said School Committee member George Kazanjian. "I think it has to do with (Principal) Arthur Nicholson."
The school is fairly close to the state averages across the board, except in the advanced categories. Just 9 percent are advanced in English compared with 16 percent statewide. In mathematics, 29 percent are advance compared with 40 percent in the state.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.