Schools search for ways to expand ‘advanced’ MCAS ranks
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Local high schools that participate in the Metco program are redoubling efforts to challenge and equip all students to achieve top MCAS scores, officials said, after recent test results showed African-American students in the regional collaboration persistently lagging behind their white classmates.
In most area school districts that participate in the voluntary school-integration program, the vast majority of 10th-graders of all races scored at least “proficient” on the MCAS exams taken last spring. But a Globe review of the data found a stark gap between students of different races who achieved “advanced” scores.
“It is frustrating to me,” said Cheryl Maloney, the superintendent of schools in Weston, where 71 percent of white students scored “advanced” on their 10th-grade English MCAS, compared with 18 percent of black students — a gap of 53 percentage points. “We look at that information very carefully every year. Every year we come back to the table and say that’s unacceptable; it shouldn’t be that way.”
“Nationally, we have an achievement gap, and Newton is not immune from that gap,” said David Fleishman, superintendent in Newton, where there was a 48-point gap between white and black 10th-graders scoring “advanced” in English. “As a society, it’s an incredible challenge, and we obviously need to address it.”
Maloney, Fleishman, and other area educators said they are constantly working to find ways to narrow the achievement gaps that exist within their schools. Doing so can be tricky, they said, because the causes of the gap are multiple and sometimes murky — a mix of socioeconomic and identity-based factors like access to technology, what language is spoken at home, teachers’ expectations of students, and students’ own self-perceptions.
The numbers are staggering — a gap of 64 percentage points between white and black 10th-graders at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High scoring “advanced” in math; a 60-point gap in English at Belmont High; a 56-point gap in math at Concord-Carlisle High; a 49-point gap in English in Lexington; and a 47-point gap in math at Wellesley High.
The upshot: At some districts, white 10th-graders were three or four times more likely than black 10th-graders to score “advanced” on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests.
The sample sizes of black students sitting for 10th-grade exams can be small, but the aggregated data for all grades also showed substantial differences. In Newton, for example, 54 percent of white students scored advanced in math across all grades, while the number for black students was 15 percent.
Gaps also existed between other ethnic groups. Statewide, Asian students outperformed state averages, while Latino students as a whole scored lower than state averages.
In larger districts close to Boston — such as Newton and Brookline — many students of color are local residents. In suburban districts such as Concord-Carlisle, the vast majority of black and Latino students are Boston residents who are attending the school through Metco, or the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. The program buses city students to suburban districts in an effort to provide them with better educational opportunities and to create more racially diverse student bodies.
One way school districts are attempting to narrow their achievement gaps is by getting more students of color into honors and Advanced Placement classes. Newton is starting a program — modeled after one in Brookline — to support minority students and help them stay on track to take upper-level classes. Last year, Newton South High School officials grouped six nonwhite students in an AP course so they would not feel isolated or intimidated by being the only student of color in the classroom.
In Brookline, an initiative is underway to get more underrepresented students on track to take calculus before they graduate. The program includes a summer preview of what students will see in math class in the upcoming year, as well as after-school tutoring.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of students of color who are enrolled in and succeeding in upper-level math classes,” said William Lupini, Brookline’s superintendent.
Brookline, along with Cambridge, is one of two school districts in the state that belong to the Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of diverse, mostly high-achieving school districts seeking to eliminate their achievement gaps.
Madeline Hafner, the network’s executive director, said that sometimes black and Hispanic teenagers subconsciously feel they are not the “type” of person who is right for upper-level classes.Continued...