Published in the October 12, 2016 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — English Language Arts Director Kate Robertson and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Director Katie Ambroise presented the MCAS action plans to the School Committee last week.
Students in grades 5-8 took the MCAS English language arts and math exams last year. Students in grades 5 and 8 also took the MCAS science exam.
Robertson noted the 2016 MCAS exam served as a “transition year” while the state develops the new MCAS 2.0 exam, which will be unveiled next spring.
“In English, we had two sections of regular MCAS and there was a third section that had PARCC-like questions,” said Robertson. “Students had to do a narrative writing task and they had to answer four evidence-based selective response questions. The four questions haven’t been released (by the state). We have some preliminary data, but its not enough to do a full scale analysis about how our students performed on those questions.”
Ambroise said the MCAS math exam also included PARCC-style questions. She said the MCAS science exam was similar to previous years.
According to Robertson, 28 percent of Massachusetts school districts administered the MCAS exam this year while 72 percent of districts administered the PARCC exam. She said MCAS 2.0 will be a blend of both exams.
“We are still waiting for more guidance about what the test will look like,” said Robertson.
Robertson said 92 percent of eighth graders received advanced or proficient scores on the MCAS English exam. She said 80 percent of fifth graders scored advanced or proficient on the MCAS English exam.
Ambroise said 80 percent of eighth graders scored advanced or proficient on the MCAS math exam.
“It’s important to note that this class was the first class to benefit from more time in math in all four grade levels,” said Ambroise. “We are very thankful for the extra math time and its great to see the grade 8 scores increasing every year.”
Ambroise said fifth graders continue to have “solid results,” as 87 percent scored advanced or proficient on the MCAS math exam. She said 75 percent of sixth graders scored advanced or proficient on the MCAS math exam, and 77 percent of seventh graders scored advanced or proficient.
On the MCAS science exam, Ambroise said 80 percent of fifth graders received advanced or proficient scores.
“I am very proud of the grade 5 results,” said Ambroise.
Ambroise said the eighth grade’s MCAS science scores “made slight gains” this year, as 61 percent scored advanced or proficient.
“That test is covers three years worth of material,” said Ambroise. “It can be a challenging exam.”
Ambroise said the middle school will continue focusing on science this year. She is looking forward to implementing the new science standards that have been adopted, which she believes will help improve student achievement.
Robertson and Ambroise said English, social studies, math and science teachers as well as special education teachers and tutors have analyzed the middle school’s MCAS results. The middle school will be evaluating the data in order to refine teaching practices and plan interventions.
According to Robertson, middle school teachers will be emphasizing open response writing, narrative writing and vocabulary instruction this year. She said middle school teachers’ will be revising and refining curriculum maps using the Atlas software program.
Robertson said English and social studies teachers will be incorporating previously released MCAS questions into lessons. She said three English tutors will be collaborating with English teachers to support students’ “reading comprehension and writing skills.” Tutoring sessions for at-risk students will run from October through May.
Ambroise said math teachers will be reviewing the MCAS math exam results in order to refine teaching practices. She said math teachers will be focusing on open response questions.
Additionally, Ambroise said fifth grade teachers will be focusing on “fractions, numerical expressions and classifying figures.” She said sixth grade teachers will be emphasizing geometry, algebraic expressions and equations, statistics and probability. She said seventh grade teachers will be focusing on “properties of operations, operations with rational numbers and ratios.” She said eighth grade teachers will be focusing on “expressions, equations, functions, statistics and probability.”
Ambroise said math teachers and tutors will be working with students who received needs improvement and warning scores as well. Previously released MCAS math questions will also be incorporated into math classes. She said, “students will be given opportunities to take online assessments” in order to prepare for the MCAS 2.0 exam.
According to the science action plan, middle school teachers will be focusing on “lab report and open response writing.”
“Students in all four grades will complete labs and open response questions throughout the year,” said Ambroise. “Teachers will analyze the results and determine strategies to improve writing in science.”
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Dorothy Presser asked the curriculum directors if they examine trends about fluctuating advanced and proficient scores.
Robertson said middle school officials repeatedly look into different trends and make adjustments accordingly. She noted the middle school’s “instruction has been consistent.”
School Committee member Jamie Hayman said the district’s math scores seem to have “a slow erosion from third to eighth grade.” He asked if school officials have looked into the reasons why it has occurred.
Ambroise said the MCAS math exam has different “cutoff scores” in order for a student to receive a specific score. As an example, she said fifth graders will be given a warning if a student answers 21 out of the 54 questions correctly. Ambroise said the grade 10 MCAS math exam has 60 questions and in order for a student to receive a proficient score, a student needs to answer 50 percent of the questions correctly.
“Fifty percent on the middle school test will not earn you that same score,” said Ambroise.