Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

MCAS rankings misleading, school officials report

District focuses on scores, not standings,

By Dustin Luca

---- — When it comes to MCAS scores, the rankings don’t always tell the complete story.

That’s the message schools officials sought to spread earlier this month when they reviewed the town’s latest scores on the statewide standardized test.

Superintendent Marinel McGrath urged officials and the community to see beyond the rankings, saying they don’t paint a full picture of what the test results say about Andover students.

For example, the rankings place Andover as 47th out of 344 school districts in the state in 10th-grade English, McGrath said. But in actuality, the town scored a 98, only two points off a perfect 100 score, she said. But because 22 schools scored 100 and another 24 scored 99, Andover as well as the ot47her 22 districts in the state that scored 98 tied for 47th place in the rankings.

In the case of 10th-grade science, even though Andover’s rank dropped from 52nd to 75th this year, students’ overall score actually improved from 86 to 88 year to year, officials said.

“Statistics and numbers can be spun in a lot of different ways,” McGrath said. “It gets very disturbing, and very annoying, to a lot of school personnel to see how this is, because all these different places do all these rankings, and then there are perceptions drawn about the school system that aren’t accurate.”

As a whole, Assistant Superintendent Nancy Duclos said the district’s MCAS scores “have been holding fairly steady over the past five years. There’s nothing alarming.”

School Committee member David Birnbach characterized the scores as “a snapshot to know where we’re at” and agreed that the rankings shouldn’t hold much weight.

“I hope you don’t spend a lot of time on this,” he said. “We’re a high-performing district. Our scores are stellar, vis-a-vis the broader ocean we’re involved in, in the state and nationally. I view all these scores as internal diagnostic tools for the teaching staff. That’s it.”

McGrath said the scores are useful as “a way for you to really see how students are measuring inside, in terms of the frameworks, to answer where students are, what kind of staff development, instructional adjustments we need to make.”

But committee member Paula Colby-Clements acknowledged that parents are still going to worry, so the information McGrath provided on the rankings will be useful in discussing the results with them.

“Every year when MCAS comes out, you’ll get emails or people will write to the paper, and they say, `what happened? This dropped a point. That dropped a point,’” Colby-Clements said. “I think it’s important for us to support (the administration) by being able to bring this information back.”

Member Barbara L’Italien, a former state representative, said when she was in the Legislature, she never felt passing the MCAS should be a state requirement for high school graduation.

“Being a good test taker, which is really what MCAS is, isn’t a predictor and indicator of what kind of person you’ll be and how you’ll fare in life,” she said.

On the other hand, she said, “people like to monitor the numbers.

“There’s always going to be that push and pull,” L’Italien said. “It’s a reality we have to put into perspective.”