Pittsfield School Committee Reviews MCAS DeficienciesBy Joe Durwin
10:04PM / Wednesday, October 10, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The focus of measuring improvement of the city's languishing MCAS test scores has shifted from overall performance numbers to student progress within the district, school committee officials heard Wednesday.
The School Committee was presented with the newest method of assessing MCAS data.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System rankings have changed, said school officials, because of a state waiver on some of the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The new measuring system, known as the Progress and Performance Index, assesses schools with the goal of reducing proficiency gaps in half by 2017, as opposed to the the 100 percent proficiency goals set by No Child Left Behind.
"PPI is a measure of progress toward a group's own gap-narrowing goals," said Gordon Noseworthy in a presentation. "Points are awarded to a group for making improvement relative to the group's own annual target."
Assistant Superintendent N. Tracey Crowe said the new system is "much fairer."
"It talks about narrowing gaps rather than the binary 'you made it or you didn't,'" he said.
Additionally, Crowe explained, under the previous system outlined by No Child Left Behind, there was no incentive to move students from proficient to advanced performance. "So your focus was only on the middle, and not about accelerating students."
Approximately 80 percent of schools are classified in levels 1 or 2 based on aggregate and high needs PPI. Pittsfield School District is ranked as a Level 3 school district, said Noseworthy, because the district is ranked by its lowest performing school, and Pittsfield contains several in this lower level.
In Pittsfield, Conte Community, Crosby Elementary School, Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School were all deemed Level 3, while Morningside Community School, Stearns Elementary School, Williams Elementary School and Reid Middle School all received Level 1 status. Allendale, Capeless, Herberg and Egremont were rated as Level 2 schools.
The 2012 scores showed slight drops in English, math and science for both high-needs students and the overall student population, which nonetheless fell within the "no change" range of percentage point differences.
"'No change,' to my way of thinking, it may not be bad news but it's not good news. It's a challenge. We need to take this gap business very, very seriously," said Noseworthy, though no specific ideas for improving test performance were discussed before placing the report on file.
One School Committee member expressed doubts about the substance of the new rating system.
"Only in an election year would they do this," said Terry Kinnas. "There's not really that much change, and a lot of it's what I call political fluff."
"I understand what is trying to be done, and I kind of agree with it," said Kinnas, who said in some cases the state's report didn't jibe with his own analysis of Pittsfield school performance numbers. "I think sometimes the bureaucrats in Washington or Boston or whatever don't really allow us to take a close look at our schools and how they really stack up, and are they really improving."