Mastering MCAS – Revere makes strides on statewide exam

Hitting the state average on the MCAS test was once a lofty goal for the Revere Public School, but nowadays it is the expectation.

Two schools – and nearly a third one – scored at the state average on every MCAS test this year, a major first for the district.

MCAS test results from last year’s testing period were released late last week for individual school districts and individual tests. For the most part, it was yet another celebration for the city’s schools.

“By gearing up expectations, our goal is no longer to be just improving,” said Superintendent Paul Dakin. “Our goal is to be at or above the state average. That’s our yardstick now. Despite everyone saying urban districts can’t get there, we’re trying to prove them wrong.”

This year’s results were highlighted by a dynamite performance by students across the board in the Beachmont School.

Students from the Paul Revere School followed them closely. Both schools scored above the state average on all seven elementary school tests – a first for the Revere Public Schools.

“This is the first time we’ve had two schools at that level,” said Dakin, “and really the Whelan missed being there by 1/10th of a point on one test or they’d be the third school. We were very close to having three schools all above the state average.”

For the Beachmont, it was the latest in a string of several years of good results, and it was enough to cement it as the best school in the city and also one of the best in the state.

Principal Rosemarie O’Connor said it is because teachers at the Beachmont do not teach in isolation and that they use test data extensively.

“We rely quite a bit on data and we look at it often,” she said. “When we look at data and see a student struggling, we can put them in a program that might help. In two weeks time, we’re tracking that data again. A student isn’t kept in a program without us tracking how they’re doing immediately, so if it’s not working we’re not wasting all this time.”

Dakin said that Beachmont would be one of 188 schools statewide to be named a Massachusetts Commendation School.

Revere High School (RHS) also delivered again, making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year and mystifying everyone.

“The one we all scratch our heads on is the high school; that it’s holding steady above the fray of the other urban high schools is amazing,” he said.

Nevertheless, even though scores were exemplary, RHS did not improve the way it has in the past and scores seem to have hit a plane on some tests – as opposed to heading upward.

Overall, Dakin said he is pleased.

“I think the data is good for this year,” he said. “I think there is much more to celebrate than not to celebrate. The way I am though, I look for spots that bug me. However, this is mostly very good news and it shows us we’re still way ahead.”

One of the spots he is particularly disturbed by is the middle schools – all three of them.

Inside the administration offices at RHS, the conference room has become like the headquarters of war strategy center. Test data is posted on bulletin boards, new strategies for improvement are brainstormed and computer graphs looking at every score are constructed.

It is literally a flurry of information and ideas.

Dakin, Deputy Superintendent Ann Marie Costa and Assistant Superintendent Dianne Kelly are all in the middle of that scene, and all agree it is time for change at the middle schools.

“Across the board, the place we’re not seeing as big a step in improvement is still the middle schools,” said Dakin. “That remains a place where we need to reinvent ourselves.”

The best scores in middle school came from the Rumney Marsh Academy, with two tests above the state average. However, scores were in no way up to the standards that the administration had hoped.

At the Susan B. Anthony Middle and the Garfield Middle, scores were even lower – both scoring only one test above the state average.

Dakin said that they have decided to institute two new programs that will be paid for with federal Stimulus dollars.

First, they will bring someone to train teachers to do more detailed data analysis of test scores. By doing that, he said they could track a weakness down to the level of a specific student.

“We will teach teachers and administrators how to look closely at that data to see what weakness exists and develop plans to address it,” he said.

The other program will be a cognitive skill-building program called ‘Fast Forward.’

That program consists of exposing students to repetitive learning exercises that are proven to help build concentration and memory power.

Another part of middle schools that need attention, Dakin said, is the sixth grade transition year.

“Every other grade in the district other than grade 6 has three or four tests above the state average,” he said. “That grade six transition year is our weakest point.”

At the elementary level, Dakin said that the McKinley School showed major weaknesses after being on the upswing a few years ago. While it is the most challenged school as far as demographics go, Dakin also said that the downward trend is a sign that the old facility is harming teaching and learning.

“That school is a place where we have to put resources,” he said. “The trouble is it’s so crowded and it beckons the call for us to address a new facility there. As we saw, getting the kids out of the old Paul Revere helped. Just getting them out of that school and into the Beachmont was a better learning environment.”

Beyond that problem, the entire district is facing what looks to be a problem for the entire state – that being the task of continuing to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. That groundbreaking law requires constant improvement until 2014 when all students are expected to pass the MCAS test.

With that standard in place, every school in Revere except the Beachmont and RHS are on the watch list due to the fact that they didn’t improve enough to make AYP, which are improvement goals set by the state. That same problem is surfacing all over the state.

This year, no schools came off the watch list, but the Paul Revere might come off next year if it logs another good year like this one, Dakin said.

That flaw in the law being stated, Dakin said he is not soured on the MCAS testing system, as Revere has built its solid reputation by using the test to its advantage.

“A lot of people don’t like the MCAS,” he said. “I like MCAS because it shows us what we’re doing right and where we need to improve. I think it makes us work harder.”


How’s Your School Doing?

Below is a look at how every school in the district performed on this year’s MCAS tests. Keep in mind that the testing was done last year, so students’ scores will be one grade behind this year. The results have only become available in the last week.

•Revere High School (RHS) – The high school continues to baffle district and state officials. The school has had a tremendous run on the MCAS over the last several years, improving greatly every year and winning numerous awards. Many have wondered if the school would drop off some this year, but that was far from the case. RHS reported stunning scores once again despite the challenges of transience, high poverty, and language barriers. RHS tested at the state average on the math test, was near the state average on the science test and made adequate yearly progress (AYP) on both the English and math tests. That being said, RHS is not improving year over year at the rate that it once was. It will be interesting to see how the addition of a new principal affects next year’s scores.

•Seacoast Alternative School – The Seacoast School has had a tremendous run on the MCAS over the last couple of years, but they have slipped some in this year’s testing. All students passed the grade 10 English test, but district officials said it is a school where they will again need to dedicate more resources.

•Rumney Marsh Academy (RMA) – The middle schools remain the weak link in what is a stellar school district. RMA did better than the other two middle schools, but that really isn’t saying they had great scores. Math was a concern at all three grade levels at RMA. Students scored above the state average in English in grade seven and above the state average in science at grade eight. Otherwise, the results were a mixed bag. Officials have already targeted some changes at all three middle schools to try and help bring up this consistent problem.

•Garfield Middle – Once again, the middle schools are a challenge and the Garfield Middle isn’t exempt from that challenge. While it is one of two schools in the district that benefits from an extended school day, it’s test scores have been challenged. This year, Garfield 8th graders tested above the state average in English and seemed to make improvements in eighth grade math. However, everything else kind of flat lined.

•Susan B. Anthony Middle (SBA) – Just like all the other middle schools, the SBA has the same challenges despite its location in the more pastoral western part of the city. SBA 7th graders scored above the state average in English, though that score was a slight decline from last year. Grade 8 English was also showing good signs, though there was no increase. However, there wasn’t much improvement otherwise. Most of the scores were the same as the previous years.

•Whelan Elementary – The Whelan School would have been another elementary scoring above the state average on every test in every grade level had they not lacked 1/10th of a point on the Grade 5 English test and had they not taken a nosedive on the Grade 4 English test. They scored above the state average in every other test, and showed they are a solid school. However, they also showed that they are no longer the best school in town, as they have been for decades.

•Beachmont Elementary – The Beachmont is the star of this year’s show. They followed up great scores last year and the previous year with even better scores. Maybe there is magic in that old building on Everard Street. Or maybe Principal Rosemarie O’Connor and her staff run a tight ship. It’s probably the latter. They scored above the state average on all seven elementary tests, made AYP in English and math, and have been named a state Commendation School. On the third grade reading test, 100 percent of the kids scored advanced/proficient, which is unheard of around here. Also, eight kids in the school scored a perfect on the test. The Beachmont comes in this year at the top of the pile.

•Paul Revere Elementary – If Beachmont is the city’s top elementary, then the Paul Revere is nipping at their heels. Ironically, the Paul Revere was located at the Beachmont last year when they took the test due to the construction of their new school. New Principal Barbara Kelly showed great results in her first year, taking students above the state average on all seven tests. There is definitely room for improvement at the school, but with the morale booster of having a new school, look for even better results this coming year. Keep in mind, the Paul Revere was one of the most challenged schools on the MCAS but five years ago.

•McKinley Elementary – The McKinley is probably about to take the reins as one of the city’s most challenged schools on the MCAS, and it’s probably not because of lack of effort from anyone in the building. In fact, it probably is the building. The 100-plus year old structure is wearing on teaching and learning, district officials have said. There is only one bathroom, which is in the basement, teachers conduct classes in the hallways out of pushcarts, the library is but a makeshift classroom and the computer lab is a patchwork of wires and switches. Test scores were on the rise here a few years ago, but are showing a downward trend now. Students did score above the state average in Grade 4 math. Extra resources will be directed towards the school, officials said.

•Lincoln Elementary – the Lincoln is a middle of the pack school. Officials said they had their worries about the Lincoln, but it seemed to come out better than anticipated. Students scored above the state average on three tests. There were some notable improvements there this year, but also a lot of flat lining too.

•Garfield Elementary – The Garfield has shown remarkable upward trends given it hosts one of the city’s most challenging populations. This was the last year for retiring Principal Sal Cammarata, and a new principal has taken his place. It remains to be seen if she can take the school to a higher level. As it is, students scored above the state average in Grade 3 reading and Grade 4 math. Other tests showed good trends. Their challenges seem to lie in the lower grades, particularly at Grade Three and below.

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