Two-thirds of area schools fail federal progress standards

Urban districts lag despite some gains

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2010

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More than two-thirds of area public schools, including seven charter schools, have failed to meet the federal standards for improving student performance.

Based on results of 2010 MCAS tests released last week, 261 — or 67.6 percent — of the region’s 386 public schools did not meet the standard for yearly progress required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a Globe review of preliminary data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Statewide, 982 public schools, or 57 percent, fell short of the federal targets, up from 929 last year.

Among the region’s 71 regular and charter school districts, 33 (46 percent) did not meet federal standards for yearly progress.

Statewide, 123 districts fell short.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must meet so-called adequate yearly progress standards in English and math with a goal of having all children proficient by 2014. Schools and districts fail to achieve adequate yearly progress if the performance of all students, or of any group of students — such as those with disabilities or limited English proficiency — falls short of either the English or math benchmarks.

If they do not make the benchmarks for two or more years, schools and districts are required to undertake improvements, corrective action, or restructuring.

The state last week also released a list of 187 “Commendation Schools — 34 in this region — that it recognized for successfully closing achievement gaps.

Many of the area schools not meeting the federal targets were in the region’s low-income, urban areas. In Lawrence, for example, none of the 23 schools met their targets. Also falling short were 22 of Lynn’s 24 schools and all nine in Salem.

But many schools in smaller, more upscale suburban communities also failed to make required annual progress, including three of the seven schools in both Winchester and Marblehead.

KIPP Academy Lynn was among the charter schools that fell short. The fifth- through eighth-grade school did not meet its targets in English or math in the aggregate, or for some of its subgroups in both subjects. The school is now in “improvement’’ status for its subgroups.

Other charter schools not meeting benchmarks were Innovation Academy Charter School of Tyngsborough; Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden; Lawrence Family Development Charter School; Hill View Montessori Charter Public School in Haverhill; and Lowell Community Charter School.

Josh Zoia, KIPP Academy Lynn’s executive director, said 82 percent of the school’s eighth graders scored proficient or above on the English test this year, after just 30 percent had done so as fourth-graders before entering the school. Similarly, 74 percent of the class was proficient or better in math, compared to 14 percent of those students four years ago.

“Our kids have made tremendous progress over the course of four years. If adequate yearly progress does not reflect that, we don’t think AYP accurately reflects the success of our students,’’ he said.

Zoia’s frustration with the progress standards was echoed by other area school officials.

Revere Superintendent Paul Dakin said Massachusetts has set such high benchmarks for schools that it is extremely difficult for many to achieve them.

“It just doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the success’’ that schools in Revere and other communities are achieving, Dakin said.

According to Dakin, many of Revere’s schools are meeting or surpassing the state average, which he views as a fairer gauge of progress in urban districts given the challenges — including poverty — many of their students face.

Heidi Guarino, chief of staff for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Massachusetts “has always had a very clear definition of what proficient means. When No Child Left Behind was established, a lot of states set a very low bar for proficiency. We were not interested in doing that.’’

Guarino said the growing number of schools not making their annual progress benchmarks reflects the fact that the standards are getting progressively steeper as 2014 — the year all students must be proficient — approaches.

She said her agency recognizes the good work that many schools are doing, noting “We had pretty amazing MCAS scores’’ announced this week. The result showed, for example, that for the first time more than half of all seventh and eighth graders statewide scored proficient or higher in math.

Lynn Superintendent Catherine Latham said she thinks her district’s schools overall made great gains.

“When I look at the totals,’’ she said, “with a few exceptions we went up in both English language arts and math in almost every subgroup at almost every grade span.

“I think the bar is set unreasonably high for the urbans that are doing some of the hardest work in the state,’’ Latham said.

Salem Superintendent William Cameron agreed that the standards are unrealistic for urban schools. He said Salem’s 2010 MCAS scores showed some areas of progress, but also some noticeable areas that the district needs to improve.

Salem Academy Charter School made the Commendation School list for high growth and closing the proficiency gap. But it failed to meet its progress target in two subgroups in math, and therefore moved from improvement to corrective action status for its subgroups. It also failed to meet the target for one subgroup in English, according to executive director Sean O’Neil.

Principal Rachel Hunt said the school already has expanded middle school math class periods to 80 minutes and has added a class on basic literacy and numeracy, which develops the capacity for quantitative thought and expression. At the high school level, a bonus block has been added so students may receive tutoring or other academic help.

“We’ve made really good progress, but we still have work to do,’’ Hunt said.

To see how a particular school or district scored, go to Kathy McCabe of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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