SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 23, 2013

Officials: Danvers students are making strides

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Students made some MCAS gains, especially in elementary math, even while falling short of ambitious improvement goals, the School Committee learned Monday night during a presentation of student achievement gleaned from standardized tests given last spring.

In the last school year, as part of the district’s strategic plan, the schools set a “success measure” of improving MCAS scores by 10 percent or more in English language arts, math and science in one year.

When asked if the goal was ambitious, Superintendent Lisa Dana said yesterday: “It is, but we did say we wanted to have higher expectations.”

The schools managed to increase English and math scores across the board by 3 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a presentation given by K-12 curriculum director Mary Wermers.

The district saw a 7 percent jump in science scores in all grades during the same time period.

“I feel like we are making progress toward that goal,” Wermers said, even though the goal was “lofty.” One of the things that proved difficult was a change to what is called common core standards, Wermers said. These are new state standards with different content that needs to be worked into the curriculum.

Taking a closer look at the scores, administrators found a 10 percent jump in math scores in grades 3, 4 and 5.

“What we are most proud of is our 10 percent increase in elementary math,” Dana said yesterday.

Individual schools also set goals.

For example, Great Oak Elementary School set a goal of a 10 percent increase in English and a 7 percent decrease in the achievement gap between regular education students and those with disabilities. The school met its MCAS goal, with a 15 percent increase, but the achievement gap increased, instead of decreasing. Wermers said that was due to the fact that the number of students with disabilities is a small group and their scores tend to vary.

Highlands School made a 2 percentage point progress in meeting its goal in an area of the test called “number sense.”

Riverside School met its goal of increasing math scores with a 6 percentage point jump, but it also fell short in cutting the achievement gap goal. Smith School looked to increase points students earned on open-response questions on the MCAS, with a goal that students would get 60 percent of the possible points. The students got 57 percent of the possible points.

Thorpe School met its goal of a 5 percent MCAS bump with a 7.25 percent increase in scores from 2012 to 2013. The school decreased its achievement gap by 6 percentage points, Wermers said.

Holten Richmond Middle School met goals for increasing the possible points students gained on open-response questions in math and English. Danvers High did work toward its accreditation process as part of its goals, Wermers said.

Other highlights from the MCAS test include Danvers grade 3 students seeing a 12 percentage point year-over-year increase in math MCAS scores, compared with the state average increase of 5 percentage points. Grade 5 English scores jumped 11 percentage points, while state scores increased by 5 percentage points.

While grade 8 English scores improved by only 1 percentage point, the state average saw a 3 percentage point drop. Grade 8 science saw a 3 percentage point gain, while the state dropped by two percentage points. Grade 10 saw a 6 percentage point increase, while the state saw a 2 percentage point increase.

Some of the challenges include grade 5, where science fell 5 points below the state average, and grade 6 math fell 4 points below the state average.

“I don’t put an over amount of emphasis on MCAS, because I don’t think we should,” School Committee member Arthur Skarmeas said, adding that he does not put a lot of stock in MCAS test results or growth statistics that are hard to fathom.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.