SALEM — The 2014 MCAS scores released Friday by state officials show a mixed bag of results for Salem schools year over year.
The district is still rated Level 4, marking it as one of 10 lowest-achieving and least-improving school systems in the state, and all but one student subgroup in Salem fell far short of target progress goals set by the state.
Growth is evident, however, in an analysis of individual schools and grades, said Superintendent Steve Russell. He said there were some gains at the Carlton School and in subgroups at Collins Middle School and at Witchcraft Heights. English Language Arts and math scores actually improved across the district in grades three through five.
“I’m encouraged that we’re starting to see more and more indicators of growth in the right direction ... but we’re not there yet,” said Russell, noting the district is in the third year of an accelerated improvement plan that has seen major changes for Salem’s struggling Level 4 school, Bentley Elementary, and longer days and new principals for a few schools.
Overall, the percentage of Salem students who scored proficient or higher on ELA remained at 51, but scores on the math and science exams dipped four points each to 43 and 37, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, between 2 and 4 percent more students on all three exams are now in “warning/failing” status, while the “needs improvement” group stayed relatively flat. Approximately 1,700 students in grades three through 10 took the exams last spring.
That positive growth is clearly evident at Bentley, where pupils showed much better progress last spring than in the previous year, recording more proficient and higher scores in ELA, math and science by several percentage points. Students in warning status in both math and science dropped by 14 and 21 percent, respectively, while there was an uptick in needs improvement on science exams.
Russell said he was cheered to see those gains — they don’t reflect any of the changes in place at Bentley this year — but he doesn’t believe they should be used as a barometer to judge the district’s decision this spring to pursue a restart plan for Bentley that’s heading toward it becoming a charter school.
“Hindsight is too easy a way out to look at it,” he said. “We weren’t seeing as much improvement (last year) as we could see and that was one part of the consideration for the restart plan.”
The 2014 Bentley results were still far off the state’s target goals to narrow proficiency gaps and still well below state averages, which continues to be true of the entire school district. A 75 out of 100 on the Cumulative Performance and Progress Index means students are on target. Bentley pupils got a 63 compared to 42 in 2013.
Also, 32 percent of Bentley students scored proficient or higher on ELA, while the state average was 61 percent. In math, it was 39 versus 62 percent. And between 13 and 33 percent more Bentley students were in needs improvement on all three exams than the state average. Fifteen percent more students were in warning status than the state average on ELA, 9 percent more in math and actually 3 percent less on science.
This year, the state average for all grades on proficient or higher ELA scores was 69 percent, math was 60 percent and science 55 percent. The needs improvement category was 22 percent for ELA, 25 percent for math and 33 percent for science — cumulative Salem scores were several points off that mark — and average warning scores in the state were at 8 percent in ELA, 15 percent in math and 12 percent in science. Salem scores were between 9 and 13 percent higher.
Russell said the School Committee would review the 2014 data Monday night, paying particular attention to accomplishments so far, next steps and strategies on a school-by-school basis. He said he would also address the Horace Mann Laboratory School, which has dropped again to a Level 3 rating from Level 2.
Overall, Salem has five Level 3 schools — Salem High, Collins, Carlton, Horace Mann and the Bowditch School. That means they’re in the lowest performing 20 percent of similar schools in the state.
“There’s a lot more work to be done ... but I’m generally encouraged, some of (our) work is starting to pay off,” said Russell.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, email@example.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.