WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Elementary School passed its first year under a new standardized testing regime with flying colors, the School Committee learned on Wednesday.
Last spring marked the first time the school's pupils were evaluated by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test in place of the commonwealth's traditional Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
This week, the school administration told parents that the school had received a commendation from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for "high achievement and high progress."
"One of the things I found most striking and I always look at with initial test results is the gap between the general population and high-needs group," Superintendent Doug Dias told the committee. "The goal is to make sure achievement is high but the numbers are indistinguishable between groups.
"I'm very impressed with the results from last year that show that they are, in fact, very close and virtually indistinguishable from one another."
According to the Department of Education's website, all Williamstown's pupils easily passed the target of 75 on the state's "Cumulative Progress and Performance Index," hitting a score of 88 on the 100-point scale.
But what is just as significant is the fact that the subcategory of students classified by the commonwealth as "high needs" hit a score of 86 on the same PPI scale.
And the bottom line: After several years of enjoying Level 2 status on DESE's scale, Williamstown this year achieved Level 1 classification.
"Each year, you know that's been a goal," Principal Joelle Brookner told the committee. "A number of initiatives you've supported have led us to this, so we're really pleased about it.
"We're one of the few schools in the state that received a commendation for high achievement and high progress."
Brookner told the committee that when the state released the data and issued the commendation, she called an impromptu faculty and staff meeting to share the news.
"I really attribute this to the efforts of the the staff — and I mean all the staff — who help support student learning," Brookner said. "And I'm so proud of our third through sixth graders. It's fair to say we were nervous about making the jump [from MCAS to PARCC], and the test was challenging. There were parts about it we didn't like, but we were held harmless."
Last year, the commonwealth announced it would not penalize districts for poor performance in the first year of transitioning to the new standardized test.
"When the preliminary results came in late in the summer, I was profoundly struck by how well children did across the board at every level," Brookner said.
Dias echoed her sentiments that the commendation is a testament to the work of everyone in the building, from the students to the principal.
"Test results don't define a child, and they shouldn't define a school, but for us, it validates the effort," Dias said.
School Committee Chairman Dan Caplinger offered his congratulations, and committee member Joe Johnson, himself a teacher in another district, said he was pleased that WES had been able to achieve Level 1 status without changing its culture to "teach to the test."
"I did say at one point that if getting out of Level 2 costs too much of what we do, let's stay Level 2," Johnson said, before citing a popular internet meme and T-shirt. "There's a saying, 'Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman.' Now, I guess we're Batman."
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