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School Committee member refutes Malden's ranking

Posted by Matt Byrne  September 8, 2011 10:04 AM

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The following was submitted by Steve Ultrino, Ward 2 School Committee member, in response to a Boston Magazine ranking that pegged Malden schools 119th of 135 districts in the state. Ultrino is a also a candidate for Ward 2 City Councilor.

Every year, various people decide to rate communities and school districts. There are a lot of ways to rank people – and regrettably – everyone seems to want ranks. Rating a school district could be like rating a team or an athlete: what criteria make sense, what criteria should you weigh at what point, and what is an accurate picture that tells the real value of a group of people, whether they play football or baseball, or whether they educate our children.

Malden, like other metropolitan cities that are diverse and have many hard working families, is cautious with their tax dollars- and rightfully so! The Malden Public School District proudly welcomes EVERY student and has some of the highest performing students in the region. The fact that someone uses a rating system that fails to account for the fact that any student can get an outstanding public education in our public schools should not be taken out of context to undermine our schools, our teachers and most importantly our CHILDREN.

Most of the high ranking districts in the Commonwealth have some common demographics that do not fit Malden but tend to inflate their performance:

1. They don’t have a large amount of children at economic and social risk. Malden, as a diverse, urban community serves all types of families, including those who struggle with a bad economy. Malden’s best students and faculty are at least equal to the best
anywhere in Metropolitan Boston. A sloppy rating system does a huge injustice to the
hard working people who educate our children quite well.

2. They don’t have the kinds of mobile, transient students who, because their families are new to this country or this area, or because their families move frequently to go where the work is, are not able to have stability in their lives that other children in the
Commonwealth may enjoy.

3. They don’t welcome as many immigrant families that are both mobile and who need to learn a new language.

It is interesting to note that, by national standards, Malden does very well. Our performance scores on MCAS rank close to the state’s median, but are well above the national average. If one looks carefully at the MCAS scores, you will see that the longer we have the same children in our district, the higher their scores are! Remember, Malden is being compared, not with the national average, but against some of the wealthiest communities in the Northeast.

The Boston Magazine ratings are cursory, and we don’t really know what they weigh in rating districts. For example, we offer far more advanced placement courses than many other high schools and challenge ALL of our students to excel. Our men’s and women’s sports teams are also well above average and both the student-athletes and the coaching staff work very hard.

I also challenge the graduation rates which seem to have a disproportional weight in this mystery rating system. Because Malden is a more mobile community, with some students moving two and three times during the year, some of our students are technically qualified as having droppedout when they have, in fact, moved away.

Let me briefly share with you some FACTS regarding the Malden Public School District over the last four years:

• Student Growth (MCAS): Currently #1 in student growth, English Language Arts and Mathematics, among demographically-comparable Massachusetts districts (DESE, District Analysis and Review Tool)

• Advanced Placement Course Enrollment and Achievement:
o 185% increase in AP enrollment
o 125% increase in AP exams taken
o 71% increase in AP qualifying scores (vs. 14% for the state)
o 155% in AP qualifying scores: low income students
o 214% in AP qualifying scores: African-American and Hispanic students

• Special Education:
o Lowered Special Education enrollment to 14%
o Improved district’s DESE performance status from Level 4 to Level 1

• English Language Learners:
o Unified and upgraded district’s English language learners program
o Received “Promising Practices” status from DESE

• Curriculum and Professional Development: Unified and upgraded the district’s curriculum and professional development program (vertically and horizontally).

• Students-at-Risk: Significantly increased in-school interventions in reading and mathematics for students-at-risk in every school (K-12).

• Instructional Supervision and Support: Instituted highly-effective class visitation program as
a teacher support/classroom monitoring vehicle parallel to the formal performance evaluation system.

• Higher Education:
o Received the highest number of “Posse” Scholarships in Massachusetts (for first-in-family college students)
o Instituted collaborative program with Bunker Hill Community College leading to college credits and advanced academic status for dozens of Malden High School students every year.
o Graduates routinely gain admissions to the most competitive colleges in the country

• National Recognition: Malden High School identified as one of the top high schools in Massachusetts (U.S. News and World Report).

• Academic Programs:
o Maintained full academic, music, arts and athletic programs during the recession without instituting fees.
o Expanded vocational/technical program (Pre-Engineering; Health Assisting).

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