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NCLB Outrages

MCAS Fallout: Scores Prompt Elementary Changes, While HS Science Program Pays Off

As we get closer to the 2012
mandate of 100 percent proficient, the demands
will get steeper and steeper--until no child is
left standing.

by Tim Wood

CHATHAM --- Even before the most
recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment
System (MCAS) tests results were announced,
changes were being made at the elementary
school due to what school officials learned
were lower than anticipated scores on the
England language section of the standardized

Some parents, however, are not happy about the
schedule change, which involved replacing two
weekly gym classes with computer classes
concentrating on MCAS preparation work. Third
and fourth graders now have one gym class a
week instead of two. Students in kindergarten
through second grade continue to have two gym
classes per week.

âMy big concern is that weâre
concentrating so hard on getting the kidsâ
scores up, that weâre not looking at the well-
rounded child,â said Jennifer Watson, the
mother of a fourth grader.

Elementary School Principal Gaylene
Heppe said the schedule change is a preemptive
move to ensure that the school continues to
meet the progress goals set by the state and
the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

âI consider what weâre doing as
being proactive,â Heppe said. âWeâre not going
to wait and see if we donât make [the
improvement goal] another year.â

Chathamâs scores were generally
above the state average in most testing
categories. Its lowest scores were in
mathematics in the fifth and seventh grades,
and in the eighth grade science and technology
exam. But there was plenty of good news as
well. Students scored high in the sixth and
seventh grade English tests; the composite
performance index (CPI) for the seventh grade
English test was 97.5 out of a possible 100

In the new 10th grade science and
technology exam, Chatham students earned an
average CPI of 95.1, the 36th highest score in
the commonwealth.

The 83.5 CPI score in the grade
four English language test, compared to 85.9
last year, a 6.7 percent drop, contributed to
the elementary school receiving a declining
improvement rating. If the school fails to
meet its improvement target next year, it will
be required to develop an improvement plan,
according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary
Ann Lanzo.

Under the federal No Child Left
Behind Act, schools must not only improve their
scores each year, but they must show an
adequate rate of improvement, known as adequate
yearly progress, or AYP. While Chatham made
adequate AYP in all areas, its improvement
rating in English language arts declined,
reflecting the drop in the fourth grade English

âThis is the first time we have not
met the target,â she said. Chathamâs scores
have always been relatively high; she likened
the annual improvement requirement built into
the MCAS as âclimbing a steep hill.â She also
noted that because of the small number of
students here, it only takes a few students who
do poorly to skew the score. âOne student is 2
percent of the score,â she said.

Heppe said math scores were high
enough to reach the target for the next two
years, but the low English language scores
prompted the schedule changes. Officials were
aware that scores in that area were down state
wide, but could not explain that to parents
until the MCAS results were released last week.

âThe choice I felt I had to make
was to make sure students had enough time to do
their regular curriculum for computers and a
program called Study Island,â which is a
comprehensive MCAS preparatory program aligned
with state standards, she said. In the past,
teachers used classroom time to prepare
students to take the MCAS; the change shifts
that process to the two computer classes per
week Because of the schedule change, gym
teacher Joseph Webster will also have more time
for health instruction in the classroom, she

Another schedule change provides an
extra instructor in third and fourth grade
classrooms to do small-group instruction in
English language arts, Heppe said.

Watson, a speech therapist who also
has a son in kindergarten, said she made calls
early this week to elementary schools with the
highest MCAS scores and found all had two gym
classes per week for third and fourth graders.
Even the state department of education, on its
website, touts the value of physical education
in promoting mental health, interpersonal and
even math skills, she said.

âPeople do best in school and in
the world when theyâre connected to others,â
which gym helps foster, she said. Thereâs no
guarantee that reducing gym to once a week in
favor of computer MCAS prep time will increase
scores, she added.

Watson has contacted dozens of
parents and encouraged them to speak with
Heppe. She said she understands the principalâs
position, but ârespectfully disagreesâ with her

âItâs disheartening,â said Watson.

Heppe said she understands that
parents are upset about the loss of gym time.

âIâd love to be able to give kids
more gym. But they do have a nice solid block
at recess to play outside, and we have a very
nice playground now. Itâs just a trade I felt
was essential to do this year,â she said.
Students who complete the Study Island program
do better on the MCAS test, she said. Parents
can help by allowing children to access the
program from home. If scores improve, the
additional gym class may be restored, she said.

In the new grade 10 science and
technology test, Chathamâs CPI was 80.4.
Schools could choose among four different
subject areas: biology, chemistry, introductory
physics and technology/engineering. Two years
ago Chatham implemented a two-year biology
program and choose that subject. The new
program paid off, said Principal Paul

âWe knew we were going to do well,
but not this well,â he said, adding that
students underwent a âbiology boot campâ before
taking the test to review the previous two
years of instruction. Under the program,
freshman take a âmacroâ biology course,
providing the basics of ecology and
environmental sciences, and sophomores take a
âmicroâ biology course which goes into more
detail on topics such as genetics and cellular

âBiology creates a pretty good
foundation for all the sciences we teach,
including marine science, which is pretty big
at Chatham High School,â he said.

Other results were good, but
Mangelinkx acknowledged there are still areas
the school must work on. England language arts
is one of them. He noted that there are only
38 students in the 10th grade class taking the
most recent test.

âAny two or three kids can change
your percentages by eight to 10 points,â he
said. âBut still, if weâre only dealing with
38 kids, we should be able to get them over the

New rules under the No Child Left
Behind legislation require that students must
not only pass the MCAS to graduate, but must
demonstrate that they can work at the
proficient level. Students who score at the
needs improvement level must take additional
courses and prove proficiency in a given
subject area through other testing methods.

âThe good news,â Mangelinkx said,
âis the state leaves it up to the school to
determine how to get to that point. Weâve been
arguing for years that there have to be other
ways to show proficiency.â

School officials will give an
overview of the MCAS results at the Oct. 7
school committee meeting.

Alan Pollock contributed to this

— Tim Wood
Cape Cod Chronicle


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