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Wilmington Receives 2012 MCAS Test Results

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kate Burnham analyzed this year's test results.

The state released the results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, which were taken by students across the district in the spring.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kate Burnham, in charged of Curriculum and Staff Development for the district, said the new Progress and Performance (PPI) system provided a new way to the analyze the results.

Earlier this week The Boston Globe published an interactive look at MCAS results for districts throughout the state. For a look at Wilmington's complete results, you can visit the district's portion of the article.

Burnham provided the answers to the following questions regarding this year's MCAS results.

What was your biggest take away from the latest results?

We are finding the new Progress and Performance Index (PPI) system is a more comprehensive measure of the hard work that is happening in schools. For the first time performance data from the science MCAS test is being included, as is student growth. A cumulative and an annual score are reported for groups of students, schools, and districts. PPI provides opportunity for multiple levels of data analysis. The more data we have, the more informed our decision-making will be at a classroom, school, and district level. In anticipation of the increased access to data and a need to be able to provide the data to staff in a meaningful way, Wilmington hired a District Data Specialist this year. We are already seeing the benefits of this decision as we have been involved in Spring 2012 MCAS data since late June.

The new PPI measure allows us to see gains made annually as well as cumulatively over a four year period. Looking at targets established to make incremental progress toward a goal is less overwhelming and helpful to teachers and administrators. PPI is a measure of the progress made annually compared only to the gap-halving targets unique to the individual schools.  In other words, each school is measured only against itself. We can celebrate the successes and focus on areas where we may be falling short. We feel this new measurement is resulting in a deeper inward thinking at the school and district level about how we can make improvements.  

What was the biggest positive you took away from the results?

We are pleased to see this new PPI measurement recognizes efforts schools are making to increase student achievement by awarding bonus points for moving students out of the Warning category to Needs Improvement and for moving students from Proficient to Advanced.

In what area do you feel the school most needs to work on?

One of the nice things about PPI is that goals are tailored to each individual school. This makes the data more valuable to schools for targeted improvement. Areas to target for improvement will be unique to each school. As a district we continue to perform above the State average in open response questions. However, we want to target improvement of skills to better allow students to articulate critical thinking across grade levels in math, ELA, and science.

What impact do these test results have on how the school district does business?

The use of data has reshaped teaching over the last several years. MCAS and PPI data provide one piece of the data puzzle. Multiple sources of data, including our own district benchmark assessments, are used to inform decision-making in curriculum, instruction, and professional development. It is part of our professional culture to be engaged in data collection to monitor student progress all year. We view teaching and learning through a data lens. As one example, we used last year’s Middle School math MCAS data to drive decision-making in curriculum, instruction, and development of additional student supports. We are pleased with the gains we saw at the Middle School in math with this year’s MCAS results. We exceeded the target for all students and the high needs group which includes students in the subgroups of special education, low income, and ELL. Historically these subgroups have struggled with this assessment, so we are quite pleased with the progress.

How big of a challenge is it getting students to take these tests seriously and put full effort in?

It can be a challenge with some students. The student perception of a standardized test is oftentimes different from that of school-based assessments. We need to continue to educate students and families about the importance of MCAS testing. The data it provides allows us to measure student progress against the state-wide student population while at the same time providing valuable information about individual student growth. We know that some students are highly motivated to perform well on the test. Oftentimes we see younger students become very anxious about the test. In order to optimize student performance, we need to continue to help students find a nice equilibrium in terms of motivation to perform to the best of their ability. We should think about the tests as an opportunity for students to show what they know.

Other thoughts

The PPI measures the upper 80% of schools in the State against their own targets toward reducing student proficiency gaps. That upper 80% is comprised of Level 1 and Level 2 schools. The new measurement and leveling system takes the stigma away from a Level 2 accountability status as greater than 40% of schools are Level 2. As a result of being in the top 80% of districts in the State, we will continue to be measured against our own school specific targets. The district is committed to data use and has added a District Data Specialist position this year to assist us in analysis of multiple sources of data. Overall, the results are encouraging. We feel this is reflective of data-driven decision-making in curriculum, instruction, and professional development to increase student achievement. We will continue to use data thoughtfully in our decision-making to ensure a quality learning experience for all students. We believe this commitment will ultimately translate into the district achieving a Level 1 status.

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