MALDEN -- State education officials today unveiled a new way of measuring MCAS achievement.
The state will now report the performance of a student or groups of students as they progress from one grade to the next -- allowing schools and parents to see how much or little growth has occurred over time.
Previously, the state only judged school success by its MCAS scores at each particular grade level, comparing it with scores posted by that grade level in previous years. The practice had long been criticized by many educators as an "apples-to-oranges" comparison, prompting some school leaders to dismiss poor MCAS scores in a given year because that group of students may not have been as academically talented as the previous group.
The new system is shining a more positive spotlight on some lower-performing schools. Although these schools may be in the middle of the pack or toward the bottom for MCAS scores, the schools are actually making a lot of progress in pushing up scores for students as they advance from one grade level to the next.
On the flip side, the system also is revealing that some high-scoring schools have smaller growth in student test scores.
"It's a major leap forward for the Commonwealth to have this data in hand," Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said on Monday in a briefing with reporters on the new system.
The new system analyzes three years' worth of MCAS data among students with similar scores to determine whether or not progress is on target or growing at a faster or slower rate The methodology is similar to how many pediatricians compare a child's growth in height and weight to other children.
The state is only issuing school and district level data this year as local educators get acquainted with the new system. In future years, the state will send parents individual data on their children.
Education officials issued a few notes of caution in looking at the new data. Small groups of students are open to greater fluctuation in positive or negative growth and anything less than a 10 point difference is not considered "educationally significant."
The state considers typical growth in annual MCAS scores between the 40th and 60th percentile. Anything above 60 percent represents faster growth, while any score below 40 is considered lower growth.
For instance, a school with a growth percentile of 90 in fifth grade grew as much or more than 90 percent of other schools with a similar history of MCAS scores in the two previous years. Only 10 percent of schools did better.
The new system is intended to complement -- not replace -- other methods of evaluating student, school, and district performance on the MCAS. In other words, the primary goal remains to have all students score in the top two categories of the exam, proficient or advanced, which conveys that students have solid command of that subject matter.
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