Framingham High School has been upgraded to level 2 status by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this week after high school officials appealed their lower rating, saying they miscalculated the number of students taking the MCAS test on which the rating is based.
The state slapped the school with a level 3 designation, which represents the state's bottom 20 percent of schools, because the school's MCAS participation fell below the 90 percent threshold, said JC Considine, a spokesman for the state education department.
However, the school’s test administrator had miscoded six English Language Learner students, which affected participation percentages, he said.
"First-year ELL students don’t have to participate in the English Language Arts test, but they were not coded as first years, so they were counted as nonparticipants," Considine said.
Once the students were coded correctly, the school's participation among ELL students jumped from 88 percent - two percentage points from level 2 designation - to 98 percent, Considine said, boosting the school to a level 2 rating.
Michael Welch, Framingham High's principal, said when he heard last month that his school was given level 3 designation, he was shocked.
"When I got an email saying, ‘By the way, you’re going to be level 3,’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’” Welch said. "We did really well on our MCAS scores, so we were really proud."
Welch said the error was most likely caused by the high school's constant influx of students new to the district.
"We had 11 percent new kids - that's 220 kids who are new to Framingham public schools in all grades," Welch said. "Sometimes when they come in, it's like trying to drink from a fire hose. There's a torrent of kids coming in, so they don’t always get coded correctly."
Welch noted that especially with ELL students, language barriers can exacerbate coding difficulties.
"Some of this is our fault because of the data scrubbing we should have done, but we were able to correct it and the scores were spectacular," he said. "I was really upset that a technicality tripped us up."
Although the rating does not affect funding from the state, Welch said the ranking directly affects morale.
"When you get that label slapped on you, it's psychologically a burden," he said.
"You probably would actually get additional state help if you're a level 3 in some cases, but we don’t want that," he added, laughing. "We want to show that we’re doing a great job."
Considine said that Framingham High School is being kept from a level 1 rating because the school still needs participation improvement in two subgroups: Hispanic students on the English subject test, and students with disabilities on the math subject test. Both groups have more than 90 percent, but below level 1's 95 percent threshold, of students participating in the MCAS, he said.
However, Welch said the school will strive to continue improving.
"We're not far from level 1," Welch said. "We have a lot of hardworking teachers here, and I don’t want us to get lumped in with level 3 or level 2. I want us to be at top."
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org