Over the past 18 months, we have heard a lot about what actions the Salem public schools are taking to meet turnaround goals, but how will our progress be measured? Most of us immediately think of standardized test scores, like the MCAS, but MCAS is just one measure of how our schools are performing.
As with all districts, the state will measure progress in Salem against a variety of goals that fall into three interconnecting categories: student rates, student achievement and college readiness, and school culture. Improvement must be demonstrated in each area, and this can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, attendance rates must go up so that kids are present and ready to learn; classroom instruction and student learning must improve to demonstrate progress as measured by the MCAS and other indicators; and our school culture must raise expectations of all students so that we may begin to implement more effective learning strategies.
Student rates include attendance, truancy, dismissal, suspension, grade advancement and high school graduation. While there are minimum state requirements, Salem’s historic performance is the baseline from which growth is measured. For 2013, the Salem public schools fell outside the statewide averages in all areas with the exception of out-of-school suspensions, which were slightly below the state average. This means that Salem students drop out of school, are absent, suspended and held back a grade more often than other students in the state. And these statistics are amplified for students who are considered high needs: English Language Learners, students with special needs, and low-income students. To address these issues, Salem has set goals in its Accelerated Improvement Plan.
Student achievement goals pertain to MCAS. MCAS is a statewide test that measures what students should know and be able to do at certain critical times in their educational development as defined by national standards. MCAS sets the floor for student achievement, not the ceiling. The state does not prescribe how a school or district teaches its students. It simply uses MCAS as a standard measurement of a student’s knowledge of content at a particular time. Schools and the district must show continuous improvement, especially among high-needs students, to begin to close the gap between those students and their peers.