MCAS Scores Reflect Improvement, Challenges of the Community

After hours of careful analyzation of Chelsea MCAS state testing results, one realizes that they need to start analyzing Chelsea’s state MCAS results.

That’s no misprint, but simply a stated fact that social and political conditions in the world often filter into the schools and require an understanding of the entire community’s story before one can truly make sense of the numbers reported on the state test.

“Urban schools often get an unfair evaluation and suffer from an unfair reputation,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “Unless people are knowledgable about the whole story, urban schools will suffer from a reputation they don’t deserve. For example, our 9th grade retention rates are poor right now, but we had more than 200 new students enroll in Chelsea High School (CHS) from January to June. Those 9th graders who just came in aren’t going to be able to complete all their credits in time, so they have to repeat. It’s things like that, that until you peel back the layers, you don’t understand the whole story.”

Overall, the numbers are very promising for students who have been in the district for an extended period of time, and especially for students that have

gone through the school system and on to CHS – which had a slight drop in scores, but still logged strong results on the test.

At the Hooks Elementary School, students achieved an unheard of Level 1 status – something very rare in an urban school, and especially one that houses a new immigrant program for grades 1 and 2.

That said, there is an entirely new population that has arrived in the last three years – a good many over the last year in the immigration surge from Central America – who arrive at the middle schools and high school with lower levels of education and much higher needs than the average student.

That’s reflected in some downticks in scores at the middle school level and early high school grades – along with a traditional dip at middle school that has been a challenge in Chelsea for a number of years.

MCAS results are often all about looking at data – numbers and percentages – but in Chelsea educators said they have to look numbers and also a whole set of other circumstances. After all, at most schools in the suburbs – and even in surrounding districts – Geometry teachers don’t have to work around the fact that only a few months ago a student in the class walked a 1,000 mile journey and perhaps experienced or witnessed unspeakable criminal acts along the way.

“I want to give commendation to our educators who have done such an excellent job meeting the needs of a very dramatically changing student demographic,” said Bourque. “Our student enrollment is dramatically up and it is increasing with a student that has a much higher need. Our actual student demographic in Chelsea is really very different than even nearby districts like Revere. I want to give credit to the amazing jobs our staff, administrators and teachers have done to meet the needs of these students and getting them on to high school graduation.”

Bourque said the middle school program will move into an area of high concern, and while there are some budding concerns at CHS, she said they have confidence in the foundation at the high school.

“For us, middle school is going to be our focus going forward,” she said. “We’ll watch the high school, but we feel the high school is on a strong path. They’re numbers dipped, but they have good, strong systems in place. They also have a strong, new principal. The overarching message is that while we have areas of strength and great achievements to hold up, we also have areas we are still concerned about and we’ll dig deeper to look into those things. However, I can’t emphasize enough the amazing work our educators have done with our students.”

Districtwide, Chelsea remains a Level 3 district, which Bourque says is an area of concern, but truly is a decent place to be for an urban school. Only one urban school district in the state – that being Revere – achieved a Level 2 district status this year. Most urban districts sit at Level 3 or below. For comparison sake, suburban districts such as Peabody and Saugus are also at Level 3 status.

Level 4 status requires a state turnaround plan, while Level 5 status triggers a state takeover. The Levels are based upon student improvement from year to year, and are measured by whether or not students meet targeted goals set by the state.

The highlight of this year’s MCAS was quite obviously the Hooks School, where steady improvement over the last four years has raised that school up to a Level 1 status. The Hooks had a target performance score of 87, and blew that away with 90.8 composite score.

“That’s amazing and almost unheard of in an urban district,” said Bourque.

CHS marked some good achievements as well, dropping its dropout rate from 8 percent to 6.5 percent. The four-year graduation rate also improved to 64.3 percent, and students at CHS increased Science test scores by 11 percent over last year.

On the English test (ELA), CHS student performance achieved high performance status for the third consecutive year, with 77 percent of all students tested achieving the Advanced/Proficient status and only 8 percent failing.

“We have to start looking at the longitudinal data – how a student is improving over time on the MCAS,” said Bourque. “We can’t just look at the one-year snapshot for our district. Part of our story, as we see at the high school, is that the longer we hold onto our students, the bigger the growth we can make.  When our students are with us for a period of time, we see them getting better and better.”

The flip side of that is there is noticeably low growth at the middle school level in testing areas across the district, and most notably in the grades where an influx of new students have arrived.

The Browne Middle School showed moderate growth in ELA and low growth in mathematics, but Bourque pointed out the low growth number for math is still 10 points higher than last year.

Other MCAS notes included:

  • For the first time in four years, Chelsea High School’s Composite Performance Index decreased slightly in both ELA and Mathematics.
  • Hooks School grade 4 students achieved high growth in ELA. Hooks School Hispanic students out-performed 50 percent of Hispanic students at the same grade level across the state.
  • Sokolowski School grade 3 student performance in ELA increased by 4.6 CPI points over grade 3 students last year.
  • District student performance declined in ELA in the aggregate and also in the Special Education and subgroups.
  • Browne Middle School special education performance remained in the Critically Low performance level, declining by 7.8 points.
  • Special Education students at the Clark Avenue, Berkowitz and CHS also declined in ELA performance as well as subgroup students at CHS and Clark Avenue.
  • District grade 4 students performance in Math at the Advanced/Proficient Level increased by 8 percent and Grade 10 students increased by 3 percent.
  • CHS grade 10 Special Education student performance in mathematics improved 7.2 points as did Special Education students at the Berkowitz (8.5 points).
  • District grade 7 student performance at the Advanced/Proficient level decreased by 13 percent.

Sidebar –

New Students Surging, But Situation Isn’t New

Much has been said over the past few months about the surge of ‘unaccompanied minors’ or new immigrants who have come across the southern U.S. border illegally, but school officials said the situation isn’t new to them.

Supt. Mary Bourque said they have been tracking the arrival of students from Central America for the past four years and have noticed a steady stream. That said, there was no question that the stream has turned into a rushing river – which has presented its challenges.

Bourque said since July 1, there have been more than 200 students enroll in grades 1-12 just from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

On the whole, the schools are up more than 500 students since last year.

School officials note these kinds of increases in students present typical challenges and unique challenges. Naturally, huge enrollment increases challenge the space available in the classrooms, but also the fact that those arriving from Central America are often much further behind than their counterparts. As has been pointed out previously, a seventh grade education in El Salvador isn’t on par with a Massachusetts seventh-grade education.

“We’ve been tracking this four years now, and there was a surge over the summer, but it hasn’t stopped,” said Bourque.

Bourque said, however, the Chelsea schools and staff can accommodate these new students as long as they are funded accordingly.

“We need to be flagged and supported with the flexibility of our funds to be able to use them to handle the social/emotional needs of these students coming in,” she said. “Chelsea is open to refugees from around the world and we’ve been doing that for 150 years and know how to do that, but we need the support of our leaders to adequately provision for us. This is the story of who we are as Americans.”

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