With Funding Questions Unresolved, Supt Kelly said They Can Only Tread Water on MCAS

Only a few years ago, Revere High School (RHS) was one of the top urban schools in the nation and showed gradual, impressive increases in student scores on the MCAS test every year.

Then came the meltdown in education funding, which hit schools like Revere and Chelsea extremely hard.

Now, while RHS is still an exemplary school, the gradual increases on MCAS have stopped and scores have stagnated overall. While nothing is on the decline, things are not increasing the way they did in the past.

Supt. Dianne Kelly said she’s not surprised, nor is she sounding the alarm. That’s because after three years of funding cuts due to the “broken” education funding formula, she believes it’s a milestone to simply stay where they have been.

“There are a lot of variables at play here,” she said. “There are several things that I think of why scores are stagnating or not going up the way they were. I think of an antiquated building housing more than 2,000 students and a budget scenario that has caused insufficient staffing for the last three years, it doesn’t surprise me that we see stagnant scores. It’s honestly a tribute to the teachers that we’re digging in with these resources and still finding success. We’re trying to dig into the data and still find ways to help kids find achievement, but we’re going to need more money to hire more staff if we want to see kids continue the way they have. That’s the bottom line.”

RHS showed itself to be steady in this year’s scores, which were unveiled late last week. The number one good piece of news is that the district wasn’t identified as needing state assistance. Some 59 schools statewide did require assistance, but Revere was not one of them.

RHS’s results showed that 16 percent of students were partially meeting targets, which is the lingo for the new MCAS test – which has been dubbed MCAS 2.0. Last year, when the test was taken, it was the first year of the revamped test, and so many terms regarding the MCAS have changed, including the rating of schools as Level 1 or Level 2. Now, each school and each sub-group in the schools (such as race, gender or English Language Learner status) have targets set by the state. The school is measured on whether or not they meet these targets, and what percentage of kids meet the target.

In RHS’s case, 45 percent of the students partially met their targets.

For surrounding communities, the scores were:

  • Everett High, 45 percent
  • Malden High, 17 percent
  • Brockton High, 24 percent
  • Lynn English, 34 percent
  • Chelsea, 21 percent

Kelly stressed that the school is missing resources and that is a major reason that things aren’t improving as they did before.

“A lot of it is resource based,” she said. “We have classrooms that are too big and we don’t have social workers to intervene when a kid is having a meltdown. All of these things affect student advancement.”

As an example, she said they didn’t fill 20 teaching positions two years ago. Last year, two of those were filled, and this school year they were able to fill 18 more. That brought them up to the same levels as two years before. However, in the meantime, 500 new students came into the district.

Meanwhile, Kelly was very upbeat with the advancement of the English Language Learners (ELL) in the district. That had been a weakpoint in years past, but the schools were able to put resources there to improve those scores.

“We had been focused in on improvements for two years on our ELL students and we found success,” she said. “We met or exceeded expectations with ELLs at all grade levels.”

One of the ways they helped to bring up scores was they did a deep study of the ELL program, its staffing and its curriculum two years ago. The first thing they did was changed communications with families, giving more frequent progress reports for ELL students. Also, at the Garfield Elementary, they piloted a program where an ELL teacher and a regular education teacher co-taught an inclusive classroom – meaning ELL students and regular education students.

“It seemed to be a positive thing,” he said. “Last year was our first year doing it and we want to collect more data before we really go forward with it.”

The elementary schools all did well also, with the Beachmont and Paul Revere schools showing up as some of the best in terms of scores.

“None of our schools required state assistance,” she said. “The Beachmont and Paul Revere were identified as meeting targets. All other schools were partially meeting targets, which means in those schools at least one sub-group of students we need to focus more attention upon. It wasn’t any particular sub-group across the board, but different ones at each school.

At the middle school level, there is more work to do. While the Susan B. Anthony did well (66 percent partially meeting), as did the Garfield Middle (37 percent partially meeting), the Rumney Marsh Academy (RMA) does need some attention, Kelly said. The RMA had only 11 percent of the students partially meeting targets.

One good piece of news when it comes to unraveling the data from MCAS is that former RHS Principal Lourenco Garcia will now take on the role of digging into the data and finding places to improve and to celebrate.

Already, he has met with building leaders and principals and will be analyzing the data line by line, Kelly said.

This year, MCAS results for individual students will come much quicker than in the past. Kelly said they will be mailing home each student’s test results on Friday.

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