Published in the November 12, 2015 edition

By DAN TOMASELLO

NORTH READING — Local students taking the 2015 MCAS exams continue to score higher than the state average in most categories, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly told the School Committee last week.

Unlike previous school years, only students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 10 took the MCAS exam because the school system decided to participate in the second year of the PARCC “test drive” last year. The school department administered a paper version of PARCC in four schools in grades 3-8. At the high school, freshmen took the grade 9 Algebra 1 exam.

Grades 9 and 10

High school freshmen and sophomores needed to pass the MCAS English, math and science exams in order to receive a high school diploma. Daly said sophomores and freshmen continue to perform at a high level on all three MCAS exams.

According to Daly, 70 percent of high school sophomores were advanced on the MCAS English exam, while 29 percent were proficient, 1 percent needed improvement and 1 percent failed. In 2014, 59 percent of sophomores were advanced, 38 percent were proficient, 2 percent needed improvement and 2 percent failed.

The data revealed 71 percent of sophomores were advanced on the MCAS math exam, 18 percent were proficient, 9 percent needed improvement and 2 percent failed. In 2014, 65 percent were advanced, 24 percent were proficient, 9 percent needed improvement and 2 percent failed.

According to Daly, 38 percent of freshmen were advanced on the MCAS biology exam, while 51 percent were proficient, 9 percent needed improvement and 2 percent failed. In 2014, 53 percent of freshmen were advanced, 38 percent were proficient, 8 percent needed improvement and 2 percent failed.

“We still had a high number of students who were advanced and proficient this year but our advanced scores dipped a little bit for the first time in a few years,” said Daly about the grade 9 MCAS science exam results.

Grade 8

Eighth graders only took the MCAS science exam last year.

The data revealed 1 percent of eighth graders were advanced on the MCAS science exam, while 49 percent were proficient, 44 percent needed improvement and 6 percent received a warning. In 2014, 3 percent of eighth graders were advanced, 50 percent were proficient, 42 percent needed improvement and 5 percent received a warning.

Grade 5

Similar to eighth graders at North Reading Middle School, fifth graders at all three elementary schools only took the MCAS science exam.

According to Daly, 37 percent of fifth graders were advanced on the MCAS science exam, 46 percent were proficient, 15 percent needed improvement and 3 percent received a warning. In 2014, 32 percent of fifth graders were advanced, 41 percent were proficient, 24 percent needed improvement and 2 percent received a warning.

Next steps

Daly said the school system will continue focus on writing moving forward. He noted the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is scheduled to vote on Nov. 17 whether to either keep the current MCAS exam or replace it with the PARCC exam. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Mitchell Chester also floated a proposal of blending the two tests together last month.

“I strongly feel the state will go with something simple because this decision is being made close to December,” said Daly. “I think we will be seeing a test that looks similar to what we have seen in years past.”

Regardless of which exam is selected, Daly said sophomores will be required to take the MCAS English and math exams while freshmen will take the MCAS science exam next spring. Eighth and fifth graders will continue taking the MCAS science exams as well.

Additionally, special education students will be taking the MCAS Alternative Assessment next spring. Students who speak English as a second language will be taking the Access for ELL (English language learners) exam.

According to a letter from Daly and Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard, results from the PARCC exam will be released to the school department in a few weeks. Bernard and Daly said the results “are likely to be different than those receive on prior years’ MCAS results.” Parents will be receiving the scores in early December and the results will also be presented to the School Committee.

SC reaction

School Committee member Julie Koepke said the fifth grade’s results were “pretty good,” but she expressed concerns about the eighth grade’s MCAS science scores.

“Why do we continue to perform so low at the eighth grade level,” Koepke inquired.

Daly said the eighth grade’s MCAS science scores are similar to the state average. As an example, only 1 percent of eighth graders received advanced scores on the MCAS science, which is lower than the state average of 3 percent.

“We don’t see a lot of high achievement on the eighth grade test,” said Daly. “We see a good amount of students in the proficient and needs improvement range.”

Daly also noted the school department is constantly looking at ways to help students improve on the MCAS science exam.

School Committee member Cliff Bowers said its clear to him the state needs to overhaul the eighth grade MCAS science exam.

“It looks to me they are not testing the curriculum we are teaching,” said Bowers. “It looks to me by the time we get to grade 10, the test and what we have taught have come together. The test that is being given at the lower grades is bogus.”