Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 4, 2012

Andover High advanced in math

...but 'needs improvement' at two elementary schools

Judy Wakefield
Staff Writer

---- — Andover’s MCAS report card for this year shows the upper grades in town making honors but some lower than typical scores at some elementary levels. At Bancroft Elementary, more fourth-graders scored in the “needs improvement” category for English than is the state average; and at South Elementary more students scored in the “needs improvement” category in math than is the state average.

Thirty-five percent of Bancroft’s fourth-grade English scores landed in the “needs improvement” category while 38 percent of South’s fourth-grade math scores did the same.

The statewide average for “needs improvement” is 30 percent for English and 36 percent for math for fourth-graders.

The MCAS scores for spring 2012 were released last month by the state’s Department of Education. Here’s a closer look at some of the highlights:

Bancroft had 60 percent of its 89 test-takers in fourth grade scoring in the “proficient or higher” category for English Language Arts, more than 10 percent below all other elementary schools in town. Just 12 percent scored in the “advanced” category. The scores of 35 percent are in the “needs improvement” category. Both of those scores were not as good as the state average, as 13 percent of fourth-graders statewide scored in the “advanced” category and 30 percent scored in “needs improvement” category. The school did much better in fifth grade as 87 percent were “proficient or higher” in English Language Arts.

Other elementary school scores for the “proficient or higher” category for fourth-grade English Language Arts were at least 11 points higher than Bancroft - ranging from 71 at South to 87 at Sanborn. West Elementary scored a 74 while High Plain scored 81.

Fourth grade math scores at South were noticeably low as just 61 percent of the 107 test takers scored in the “proficient or higher” category. Thirty-eight percent (40 kids) scored in the “needs improvement” category compared to 36 percent statewide. West Elementary was only a point higher in the “proficient or higher” category with 62 percent of the 153 fourth-graders tested. Other fourth-grade math scores in the “proficient or higher” category were at least nine points higher - Bancroft scored 71; Sanborn scored 78; and High Plain scored 80.

Andover High School had a whopping 76 percent of 435 test-takers in 10th grade (about 330 kids) score in the advanced category for math compared to a statewide average of 27 percent.

English Language Arts scores continue to be very strong in Andover middle schools. All three middle schools scored 91 percent or higher in the “proficient or higher” category. Doherty Middle scored 97 percent for all three grades (6, 7, 8); West Middle scored 92; and Wood Hill scored 91 for their “all grades” scores.

Science and tech/engineering scores were much lower at all three middle schools, although still better than the state average. Doherty scored 73 percent for all grades in the “proficient or higher” category while West Middle and Wood Hill each had 63 percent in that category. The state average is 54.

While “very pleased” with the terrific math scores at Andover High School, Superintendent of Schools Marinel McGrath said lower math scores in elementary school don’t necessarily add up to trouble. She said there is a wide gap in how kids think and solve math equations at that age.

“We would be concerned if we did not understand what is occurring longitudinally with cohorts of students coupled with our understanding of how children develop mathematical thinking and their ability to think abstractly,” McGrath said in an email. “There is great cognitive variability in students ages 9 to 11.”

Fourth grade math is a big change for students, she said.

“In the early grades, students can ‘see’ that 3 x 3 = 9 readily through the manipulation of objects and study of patterns of numbers. Beginning in fourth grade, a student can not so easily ‘see’ that 27 x 45 = 1,215 due to the level of abstraction,” McGrath said.

She called fourth grade math a “stepping stone” as students step from concrete math to the more abstract nature of math. Math understanding shifts again in grades 7 and continues through grade 12, she said. “If we look at our fourth grade MCAS scores historically, 67 to 74 percent of our students have scored in the proficient/advanced category while in fifth grade – when they are able to think more conceptually and abstractly –our students’ MCAS scores in the proficient and advanced categories are historically in the range of 82 to 86 percent,” McGrath said.

MCAS scores are analyzed by teachers and principals who make instructional and curricular decisions. Staffers determine if more time is needed on a particular topic, they identify the best strategies for that topic and get supplementary materials if needed, McGrath said.

“We are fortunate to have strong teachers and programs in mathematics. I believe our teachers are preparing our students to understand, use and apply mathematics,” McGrath said.