Saturday, September 20, 2014

Southbridge MCAS Results: An Eight Year View

Ken O'Brien

After considering the 2011-2014 MCAS results as presented in the preceding post, I decided that they told an incomplete story.

A more comprehensive view of the pattern of "progress" in the Southbridge school district is given by incorporating an additional four years of MCAS data. The charts below provide this perspective.


  1. been there - done thatSeptember 20, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    If you look at the data comparing apples to apples, it is worse than it seems. The 10th grade students who took the test last year were in 8th grade in 2012. You would expect, and we were told by Buzz and the girls that because of all the money in data tracking that instruction would improve and scores would rise. However that is not the case. It seems as though all the teachers that were not performing, and they got rid of by one way or another over the last two years, may have been doing it right all along. At least that is what the data seems to show.

    If you go back to the days of Bishop, the staff actually worked together to identify the problems the students were having in MCAS. The main problem identified is that the student were not even attempting the Open Response questions. With that main problem identified, the whole staff worked together to work on that problem. BB instituted the Collins Writing System and each class had to begin with some sort of writing prompt. Also, instead of study-halls and electives 9th and 10th graders had MCAS Seminar classes in Math, ELA, and Science where they worked on vocabulary, reading and writing.

    Once in the new school, all that ceased and we can see the results in the new data.

  2. More information needed!September 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    One of the things I find most interesting in these types of graphs is that they actually tell you nothing at all! Essentially, you are comparing 4 totally different groups of students! As such, the information presented is a completely inaccurate representation of how our district is doing. In order to see what is actually happening, you need to follow the group of students from year to year. Compare this years 10th grade data with the same groups data from all previous years. You will then see whether they have improved or not.

    That growth data will also tell you whether the curriculum and instruction is working. For example, did they learn enough math in 6th grade to be successful in 7th grade. Was their instruction in Algebra 1 and Geometry complete enough for them to be successful on their 10th grade math MCAS?

    The ELA MCAS requires comprehension and writing. Have they learned how to write a great essay over the course of their schooling? Can they read and comprehend a story? Have they had enough access to great literature?

    The science MCAS that the schools choose to take is Biology. However, that is not the only science test. There is also a Chemistry, Introductory Physics and Technology/Engineering MCAS. Why are they limited to just Biology? Due to the focus on the Biology exam, students are require to take two years of Bio unless they qualify for Honors. So instead of 4 different types of sciences, they only have time to take 3. I took 4 different types of science when I was in high school. Why should our kids be so limited?

    I would like to see growth graphs and charts. I want to know how our students are really doing! Each grade level is made up of entirely different students and types of learners. Until they tell us how each group has progressed or not, we really know nothing.

    1. Actually, these charts do allow comparison of such academic cohorts. Compare 2014's Grade 10 students to 2012's Grade 8, 2011's Grade 7, 2010's Grade 6, etc.

      However, such comparisons are similarly devalued by changes in the composition of such cohorts, particularly in the case of school choice in recent years.

      I disagree however, that the comparisons as offered are meaningless. They do provide a picture of whether or not the academic strategies being employed are working in the aggregate. Given that most, if not all, groups consist of a number of students greater than 30, the law of large numbers compensates for the outliers and results will cluster around reasonably comparable means plus or minus several points.

    2. If we follow a cohort from their grade 8 tests to their grade 10 test you will see that in math, for instance, there is great improvement with the 2007 eighth graders to their grade 10 tests in 2009. You see the same pattern of sizable improvement with the 2008 to 2010 cohort, 2009 to 2011 group and 2010 to 2012 group. Then the sizable improvement goes somewhat south.

      A staggering 59% of this year's grade 9 students, last spring's grade 8 students, failed the grade 8 math test. Is it "Everyday Math" program, bad teaching practices, bad testing procedures, or a lack of adequate middle school administrative leadership? It has to be something.

  3. Time For Complete Leadership ChangeSeptember 20, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Today's Telegram presented MCAS scores for all towns in central MA. It is alarming how poor Southbridge scores are compared to nearly all other towns/cities. A look at the eight year Southbridge scores indicate a positive pattern, albeit slow, until the 2013 results. The 2012-2013 school year was a total failure for our students. If memory serves me, we saw a complete breakdown of our schools that year: countless physical altercations at the new school, new principal released after a few months, superintendent placed on PAL and subsequently resigned via a text message, etc. Total chaos needlessly caused by the McLoughlin/Donovan crew. One would expect scores to fall precipitously with this uncontrolled disorder, and they certainly did!

    Please don't blame the students. The blame rests squarely on the leadership of our district.

    As of today there are 30 current seniors without the State mandated level of "proficiency" on the ELA, math and science MCAS tests. Why? Why have these students not received sufficient remediation to pass the MCAS retests? Have these students been afforded the opportunities to take the retest? (It's widely known around the high school that guidance officials "forgot" to administer the November ELA retest in 2012. This error caused students to have inadequate time to complete the test once they realized mid-day that it was test day.) Leadership malfunction. Where was the Principal Perreault? Perhaps out golfing with Superintendent Ely.

    These are the type of leaders that the McLoughlin/Donovan team want running our schools. Why did they leave the district mid-year? Oh, that's right - the students, parents, staff, and taxpayers are too irrelevant to know the reasons for their back door exit. Why weren't the investigative reports on these two individuals turned over to the police department or the District Attorney?

    Bottom line - we all need to ask ourselves one very basic question: "Are our children/students better off now than they were in 2012?" Categorically NO, they are not.

    In a two year span the school committee has wasted millions of dollars on legal fees, arbitration awards, unemployment payouts, extensive investigations on personnel, huge increases in central office bureaucrats, etc. None of these wasted dollars have helped improve student performance one bit. Nor has the 1.2 million dollars Southbridge sends to neighboring towns for students opting to attend schools outside Southbridge.

    Nimberkow, Gardner, McLoughlin, Donovan, Quinney and Congdon are the real failures of our district. They should all resign Tuesday night and let true leaders move our district forward.


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