|Anthony Pierantozzi, Somerville’s superintendent of schools, said smaller towns have more stability in their school systems.
Boston Globe/File 2007)
Small towns shine on MCAS
But region sees dip in advanced scores at Grade 3 level
For the second consecutive year, smaller towns in the region bested larger, urban districts on the MCAS test, with students from Lynnfield, Winchester, Westford, and Hamilton-Wenham earning the highest scores in grades 3 and 10.
The tests, which have been required at public schools since 1998, rank students in four performance categories, ranging from advanced to warning/failure. At the hundreds of schools across the region where tests were given last spring, advanced scores jumped in 10th-grade reading and science, but dropped in third-grade math and reading.
Westford Academy was ranked in the top three in all of the MCAS 10th-grade exams and earned the number one slot in math, with 80 percent of its students scoring advanced on the test. The performance matched last year’s, when the school also topped the list in the region. Westford students ranked second in reading and science, with students registering advanced percentages of 68 and 49 percent, respectively.
“We don’t teach to the test,’’ said Westford Academy principal James Antonelli.
He said he believes the advanced scores reflect the faculty’s commitment to the state’s educational guidelines.
“We’re based on the curriculum and the frameworks, and we’ve found it very successful for us and the result is what you see in front of you,’’ Antonelli said. “It’s about the work that’s done in the classroom and we’re producing the positive numbers.’’
Westford, which opened in 1792 and is one of the oldest public high schools in the country, has 1,686 students and sends more than 98 percent of its graduates to college. Before taking the MCAS test, the school’s teachers advise students to get appropriate rest, eat a good breakfast, and relax while taking the exam. Next week, Westford will hold a modest celebration for the students, offering cake and ice cream and bringing in a disc jockey during school.
In Lynnfield, which ranked in the top 10 in advanced scores in grades 3 and 10 - and scored in the top three in the high school tests - the town’s superintendent, Tom Jefferson, credited data assessment and an early emphasis on literacy and math proficiency.
“It’s about getting to the students early,’’ he said, “and in math, for example, so many skills are sequential. You can’t learn division if you don’t know subtraction.’’
While advanced scores jumped from the previous year on the 10th-grade reading and science tests and declined on the math exam, advanced scores dropped across the board on the third-grade tests. Educators say it’s too early to assess why those scores were lower this year, but some, like Hamilton-Wenham’s Assistant Superintendent Celeste Bowler, said the answers might be found in test data.
She said the results of the MCAS tests will be weighed against programs and new methods of teaching that may have been implemented last year.
Hamilton-Wenham also ranked high in advanced scores, earning a top spot in four of the five tests in the third and 10th grade. Bowler said the district’s faculty deserves much of the credit, and pointed toward a policy that calls them to share data with other teachers about specific students.
“We have great instructional leaders who are looking at data and always ways to improve teaching and learning,’’ said Bowler.
While some cities such as Melrose and Peabody earned the first and second advanced rankings in Grade 3 reading among area schools, other urban districts fell far below that mark.
Somerville Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi said large cities often have to deal with much more complicated learning environments and more diverse student populations than suburban districts. According to Pierantozzi, larger cities, such as Somerville, have a high student turnover rate each year and also enroll a large percentage of students who are learning English as a second language. He said 1 in 5 students in Somerville is learning English, and almost one-third of the students will either move out of the district or enroll in a Somerville school during the year.
“It’s an additional challenge, which other school districts with different demographics do not have,’’ he said. “Smaller towns have much more stability.’’
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.