Andover's reputation as one of the top-performing school districts in the Commonwealth has been maintained by the performance of students on last spring's Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test.

Students at West and Doherty middle schools fared especially well, ranking first in the state for top scores on the English language arts section of MCAS. Results were released at the end of September.

Out of the entire state, seventh-graders at Doherty had the highest percentage of test takers earn the "advanced" label, the top score, in English language arts. West eighth-graders also had the highest percentage of test takers in the state place in the advanced category in English language arts.

"It's a real credit to my language arts teachers, in grades six through eight ... our teachers are dedicated, and there's a solid language arts curriculum council, districtwide," said West Middle School Principal Steve Murray. "It also shows that we have parents that are very passionate about their kids' success ... I'm proud of our teachers and students, and very thankful we have the support of the parent base. It makes the job more fun, but also more rewarding."

Theresa McGuinness-Darby, principal at Doherty Middle School, said the recent MCAS results are indicative of strong curriculum and instruction throughout the system.

"We continue to be proud of Doherty students, and proud of the instructional talents of our teachers across the board, not just in English language arts. It's not just one class or one year, it's a whole system," said McGuinness-Darby. "We incorporate literacy across curriculum. Students read in all disciplines. We stress that, and it shows in the numbers."

"MCAS is just one form of assessment, one of many of a myriad of forms of assessment we use."

At Andover High School, about 90 percent of the students taking MCAS were considered "advanced" or "proficient," the two top score categories.

"It's hard to get to the point we're at and get much better," said AHS Principal Peter Anderson. "We're always shooting to have the greatest number of students in the proficient and advanced categories, and looking for every student to pass MCAS (before they graduate). Up to this point in time, we've had success with that goal."

The state's Department of Education's Web site reported that 67 percent of Andover High's class of 2010 scored in the advanced category on the math test, down from 72 last year, but still among the better schools in the state.

Ninety percent of tenth-graders were rated as either proficient or advanced in math.

On the English language arts test, 38 percent were considered advanced, with 91 percent considered either advanced or proficient.

Among 437 sophomores who took the test at AHS, two students failed the English Language Arts portion (or 1 percent) and three students failed the math portion (or 2 percent), said Anderson.

The few who didn't pass will be offered tutoring, and can re-take the MCAS up to five times, said Anderson.

In the coming weeks, AHS staff will be looking through all 437 tests to see what can be improved and "make sure we're not missing anything," said Anderson.

"While we don't teach the test (here, we pay attention to the larger results. We compare to what we're teaching to make sure it's there," said Anderson. "We spend a lot of time testing kids today, and we try to keep it in perspective."

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