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MCAS scores show consistency

But for the first time, low-income students scored below target

While the recently released MCAS scores show Wellesley results to be "pretty consistent," two categories did not improve at a pace required by the state, according to Rebecca McFall, director of curriculum and instruction.

Elementary Mathematics and English Language Arts scores of special education students and those in the low-income category did not meet the state Adequate Yearly Progress target set for Wellesley, according to McFall.

To illustrate the AYP target, McFall said the state requires that the scores of students who were third graders in 2010 had to have improved a certain amount over the scores of students who took the third grade test in 2009. And the following year's students have to score higher each year.

"In high performance districts it is getting difficult to reach this," McFall told School Committee members at Tuesday night's meeting.

She said typically Wellesley meets the AYP targets, but failed this year in these two sub-categories. Last year special education students also failed to meet the target in math.

A plan has been put into place to help improve the scores in these categories, including tutoring and professional development programs, but if progress is not made, the state can earmark some special education funding for this purpose.

"That is money that has been allocated and spent efficiently as it is," School Committee member Suzy Littlefield said.

Littlefield also suggested a town-wide effort be launched to help boost the scores of students in the low-income category.

"This is a new category we haven't seen included before," she said, adding that after-school programs and other community efforts could have a positive effect on scores.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests are required of all public school students in the state in grade 3 and above as part of the "no student left behind" education reform passed in 1993.

MCAS scores from last year, the first in which students were required to pass before being eligible for graduation, show all Wellesley students successfully met the requirement, according to McFall.

In grade 10, 98 percent of students were proficient and advanced in Mathematics and England Language Arts, with just two percent needing improvement and none failing.

The ELA scores continue above 90 percent in the proficient and advanced category in the middle school as well, with 91 percent in 6th grade, 95 percent in 7th grade and 96 percent in 8th grade.

In the elementary schools, 84 percent of the students in grade 3 were proficient and advanced in ELA, 76 percent of those in grade 4 and 84 percent in grade 5.

The math scores are not as high as the ELA scores in either the middle school or elementary schools, but that is consistent with past years.

Eighty one percent of sixth graders were proficient or advanced in math, 78 percent of seventh graders and 77 percent of eighth graders.

In the elementary schools, seventy five percent of third graders were proficient or advanced, 62 percent of  fourth graders and 77 percent of fifth graders.

According to McFall, there is a consistent dip in fourth grade scores every year that rebounds the next year.

McFall said that while teachers have anecdotally reported students are more proficient at solving math problems since a new curriculum was put into place, test scores haven't yet shown an improvement.

"There are a couple of concepts on the MCAS tests that our students haven't gotten yet," she said. "Our approach is problem based - here is the problem, now solve it. MCAS takes a more traditional approach."

MCAS tests in Science are given in grade 8 and then in grade 10 in Chemistry or Biology. 

The grade 8 scores for Science and Technology show just 44 percent of students were advanced and proficient, with 47 percent needing improvement and 9 percent scoring in the warning category.

McFall said this is a direct result of the Wellesley curriculum's emphasis on "doing" science rather than simply studying science.

"We want students to do science in the classroom the way scientists do science," she said.

This, however, creates a dilemma because the curriculum doesn't cover all the topics included in the eighth grade test. Space, for example, is not covered in the eighth grade science curriculum, but questions about space are on the MCAS tests.

"Do we want students to do science, or do we want students to read about science to do better on the MCAS?" McFall asked.

She said one option may be to include science books in the English non-fiction curriculum.

At the high school, the Science curriculum doesn't line up with the MCAS either, again showing in the results. Tenth graders in Wellesley take Chemistry, then Biology in eleventh and Physics as seniors.

That means most students take the Chemistry MCAS test in 10th grade, which McFall called "more rigorous" than the Biology test many students in other communities take in tenth grade.

Seventy seven percent of the 10th graders who took the Chemistry test were proficient or advanced, 19 percent needed improvement and 3 percent failed.

The students who were not proficient in Chemistry could then take the Biology test to pass the science requirement, and 53 percent scored in the proficient and advanced category, 32 percent - representing just 6 students needed improvement and 16 percent, or 3 students, failed.

McFall said the school works with the students who failed and their families to prepare to take the test a second time, providing tutoring and extra preparation since passing is now a graduation requirement.

 

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