BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — There were mixed results on the 2013 MCAS exam for the Salem public schools, the only area school system designated Level 4 by the state for consistently low scores on the high-stakes test.
“This year’s results show us that some of our turnaround efforts are starting to work although we still have a long way to go,” Superintendent Stephen Russell wrote in an email.
Salem was given Level 4 status by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education late in 2011 and given three years to show improvement. This is the second year of the turnaround effort.
Russell pointed to signs of progress at Salem High, where more 10th-graders scored proficient or above in the English, math and science/technology tests, to better math scores at the lower grades and to overall improvements at several elementary schools.
The Bates School, for example, raised its scores enough to become the city’s only Level 1 school, the state’s highest ranking. And Saltonstall School rose from Level 3 to Level 2.
The superintendent said it was encouraging to see that none of the district’s Level 3 schools slipped to Level 4.
Overall, however, Russell said the district’s performance was “flat.”
The biggest concern remains the Bentley School, which was given a Level 4 designation two years ago and has shown few signs of improvement on the statewide test despite making a number of changes and hiring new personnel with funds from an annual $500,000 turnaround grant.
“Despite all of the work we’ve been doing related to that school . . . we’re still not making the impact on improving student learning that we need to make,” the superintendent said. “In fact, it looks, from this data anyway, that we’re sliding back a bit, so this is of significant concern to me and it should be of concern to the community.”
Bentley’s scores were generally lower this year in English, math and science/technology.
While not being specific, Russell said he expects to make “changes” at Bentley.
“We’re taking more aggressive action in turning that school around,” he said. “It’s evident that we’re not meeting the mark to the degree we need to, and there needs to be more aggressive decisions made around how best we do that.”
Bentley is the city’s only Level 4 school. As a result, the district is rated Level 4 because school districts are classified based on the rating of the lowest-performing school.
Of all the city’s elementary schools, Bentley has the highest number of students who are low-income or have limited proficiency in English, according to statistics from last year. And, like other city schools, it is only beginning to put in place new programs and initiatives that officials hope will produce higher scores in coming years.
Bates School, another elementary school, had a Level 3 rating a few years ago and has climbed all the way to Level 1.
“We were all quite excited when we got the news,” said Bates Principal Tom LaValley.
While crediting the hard word of students and staff, and the school’s focus on visual and musical arts, LaValley said his students benefited from a new initiative, a testing and data assessment program done with a consultant, The Achievement Network.
The consultants test students during the school year, analyze the data and work with teachers to re-teach areas where children are having difficulty.
After taking ANet tests, the Bates students “felt more confident taking the (MCAS) test,” LaValley said. “It kind of lessened the test anxiety and gave them more self-confidence.”
Saltonstall moved up a level, in large part, because it corrected a technical problem in last year’s testing.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.