By Julie Varney
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno signed a home rule bill Tuesday that if approved will delay MCAS testing in the city in order to give students and teachers more time to prepare for the test in the aftermath of the severe weather the city has experienced this year.
The June 1 tornado cancelled school for two days at the end of last school year and forced the closure of two of the city’s public schools. Then in August, the impact of Tropical Storm Irene closed schools on the first day of the new school year. And in October the weather again played a trick with a pre-Halloween snowstorm that shut down city schools for six days.
City officials said because of the nine days of teaching time lost and trauma endured by the schoolchildren of Springfield, they requested the state postpone the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems tests in the city until April and May. The tests are currently scheduled to be administered in March and April.
“Given the testimony of teachers, we feel there is serious concern whether there has been proper coverage of the subject areas in preparation for this test,” said James Ferrera, president of the Springfield City Council. “We felt we were obligated to adhere to the request of Springfield teachers and administrators.”
The Springfield City Council unanimously approved the bill on Feb. 13 before it was sent to the mayor. It now needs approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick.
“The bottom line is I am always looking to do what is best for the students in our school system. The ball is now in the state Legislature’s court,” Sarno said.
Ferrera urged the state Legislature to take speedy action in approving the bill.
“It should send a message down to Boston it was approved unanimously by the City Council and signed by the mayor, so we hope to deal with the issue sooner rather than later,” he said.
Springfield State Rep. Sean Curran (D), a member of the Joint Committee on Education, said he will lobby the governor for the passage of the bill and postponement of the test.
Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a Feb. 8 letter to Sarno that a delay in testing was not allowed and only a very limited extension could be granted for Springfield students.
Chester said passage of the bill would mean that Springfield “would fail to administer the 2012 ELA (English Language Arts) MCAS test to its students,” and students in Grade 10 would “lose a critical opportunity” to pass the test which is required for graduation.
However, Timothy Collins, president of the Springfield Education Association, said if the bill is passed the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would have to comply with the delay in testing.
Collins hoped legislators will have empathy for what people in Springfield have experienced.
“I certainly hope the legislature throughout the Commonwealth puts themselves in the shoes of the people in Springfield,” he said. “Our constituents are the families of our kids who have gone through tremendous trauma this past year, a tornado, a hurricane, eight days without power.”
Collins said students in Springfield are not on a level playing field with other students in the state.
“Scores on the MCAS test get compared across the Commonwealth. There are districts that haven’t lost a single day,” he said. “Our kids are competing with other kids who have had more time to prepare and haven’t lived through the traumatic year our kids have lived. They haven’t lived through the trauma of a tornado that ripped a path of destruction through our city that you would not believe.”
Several of the city’s public schools were directly in the tornado’s path of destruction.
Two schools, the Mary A. Dryden Veterans Memorial School and the Elias Brookings School, were closed at the end of last school year because of serious damage cause by the June 1 tornado.
The Brookings School was completely destroyed and students currently attend classes in portable spaces. The building is set to either be renovated or replaced.
At the Dryden Veterans Memorial School the main wing of the building is back in operation, but the wing most damaged in the tornado was knocked down and replaced with portable spaces.
City officials feel it is even more important to ensure proper preparation for the test given the need for continued improvement in MCAS test scores in the city’s schools.
Springfield has 10 schools deemed as Level 4 under-performing, meaning they performed poorly on the MCAS tests in both the Math and English Language Arts sections over a four-year span, scoring in the lowest 20 percent of schools statewide, and haven't shown signs of "substantial improvement."
In 2011, all but two of the 10 of Springfield’s under-performing schools experienced double-digit improvement over the previous year's MCAS test results, according the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
At the Brookings School, one of the city’s Level 4 schools, students’ MCAS scores improved by 18 percent in math and 12 percent in English last year, according the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We’re working very hard in Springfield, we’re not there yet but we’re working very hard at it,” Collins said.
Julie Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.