MCAS – Round One

Earlier this month I presented an overview of MCAS to a small group of 3rd grade parents. The presentation is posted on the Winthrop website.

This week begins our first round of testing. Students in 3rd and 5th grades will each have two days of ELA (English Language Arts) Reading Comprehension, and our 4th graders will also have those two days of ELA, plus a full day of Long Composition (writing.)  These days are spread out over the next two weeks – please see the website calendar, or the e-Notice,  for specifics.

In addition to what I mentioned to the 3rd grade parents, below are some additional tips that you may find helpful in preparing your family for the testing block.

Positive Encouragement goes a long way (all year-long) …

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep, eats properly, and gets to school on time (8:15AM.)  During testing, make this a special effort.
  • Encourage your child to read.  No activity is linked to academic success as much as reading, and as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, reading books that are easy or just right for the child’s abilities, not reading books that are overly challenging or frustrating.

Prepare students on the day of the tests

  • Make sure that your child is well rested and eats breakfast.  My son always wanted an egg sandwich on MCAS days.  Not something we whip up on a typical morning, but I did always allot the extra time during testing!
  • See that your child arrives at school on time and is relaxed.
  • Dress comfortably – it looks to be a warm week so have your child dress in layers.  If the forecast changes, a sweatshirt for cooler days may be necessary.  
  • Encourage your child to do the best work possible, and to have a positive attitude.  The power of positive thinking is a real test-taking asset – if a child can visualize himself doing well, he probably will!

Test anxiety is rampant and can keep students from doing well …

  • Always talk about the test in a positive way.
  • Encourage best efforts, yet have realistic expectations.  Third graders are having their first standardized testing experience.  Fourth graders are now having to transfer answers from the test booklet to an answer booklet, and write a long, organized, on-topic essay!  Fifth graders are experiencing science MCAS for the first time.  Elementary teachers strive for growth and improvement, but it isn’t until middle school that many students get the hang of standardized testing!
  • Assure your child that the test is only one measure of academic performance, and it is not reflected on the report card (this is a real relief for many students).
  • Emphasize that test scores do not determine a person’s worth!

The second round of MCAS testing will take place in May.  Students in 3rd and 4th grade will have two days of Math testing, and students in 5th grade will have two days of Math, followed by two days of Science and Technology/Engineering.  That testing block is currently scheduled for May 7th through May 25th.  The exact days for each grade level will be out in the next few weeks.

Thanks to Principal Clery at Roosevelt for many of these bullet points!


Big News in Massachusetts!

 Press Release

 For immediate release

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Contact: JC Considine 781-338-3112


Massachusetts Granted Flexibility from Portions of No Child Left Behind Act to Focus on Innovative Methods for Ensuring All Students Achieve at High Levels

State will build on nation-leading high standards and successful turnaround strategies; cut proficiency gaps by half by 2017

MALDEN – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) today announced that Massachusetts has been granted flexibility today from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Massachusetts has an unparalleled commitment to high standards and the waiver granted today will allow the state to move away from the broken pieces of NCLB that are no longer useful in identifying schools and districts most in need of intervention, and focus efforts on those innovative strategies already in place for turning around underperforming schools that are proving effective. Massachusetts is one of ten states granted waivers today. The others are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“This waiver will allow us to move on from the broken pieces of No Child Left Behind and focus on true innovation to create a brighter future for our children,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Massachusetts is already at the forefront of student achievement, and this decision by the Obama Administration gives us the flexibility we need to build on our success and lift all children up.”

“We are proud that Massachusetts is recognized as a national leader in student achievement,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. “This waiver will provide us with greater flexibility as we work towards closing the achievement gap and providing a high quality education for all students.”

The Commonwealth’s new state/federal accountability system is built on the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to create a more unified accountability system, an intense focus on closing achievement gaps, a commitment to high standards and accountability and successful efforts to provide targeted assistance to underperforming schools. This system will measure progress toward the Administration’s goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half by 2017 and classify schools and districts in an accountability and assistance level designed to support schools where students are struggling the most.

“NCLB accountability requirements have rendered ‘perfect’ the enemy of ‘good,’” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “A school either made Adequate Yearly Progress or it didn’t – there was no middle ground. As a result, more than 80 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts were tagged as inadequate under NCLB, which flies in the face of common sense.”

“Our accountability plan sets a high bar while implementing targets around student performance and growth that are realistic and achievable,” said Chester. “Massachusetts has already adopted legislation that targets low performing schools and districts, rigorous standards for students to ensure readiness for college and careers and regulations to evaluate educators. This waiver will enable us to build on those key reforms by calling out and remediating performance gaps, incentivizing continuous improvement of schools and districts, rewarding strong performance, and aggressively intervening in the lowest performing schools and districts.”

“We are deeply committed to providing every child with the supports and resources they need to be successful,” said Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville. “This waiver will remove barriers that stood in the way of our laser-like focus on students, educators, and schools that need our utmost attention to perform at their best.”

In September 2011, ED invited states to seek waivers from portions of NCLB to better focus on improving student learning and increasing the quality of instruction. The Commonwealth’s plan, approved today, will incorporate the state’s best indicators of progress toward college and career readiness, beginning with: (1) progress on gap-closing as measured by MCAS results in English language arts, mathematics, and science; (2) success in moving students out of lower levels of performance (Needs Improvement/Failing) and into higher levels (Advanced); (3) growth/improvement; and (4) graduation and dropout rates for high schools. The state will include data for the four most recent years, with the most recent years weighted most heavily. Targets will be differentiated for each school, district, and subgroup based on its starting point in 2010-11.

The state will report annual results for students in the aggregate, as well as results broken down by low income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and the state’s major racial and ethnic subgroups. The state will also make determinations based on a new “high needs” subgroup composed of students who are low income, have a disability, or are English language learners or former English language learners. Building on the development of a five-level scale created by the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, the state will use an index to classify schools into Levels 1-5 as follows:

Level 1            On track to college and career readiness

Level 2            Not meeting gap closing goals

Level 3            Focus: Lowest performing 20% of schools (including schools with the largest gaps)

Level 4            Priority: Lowest performing schools

Level 5            Priority: Chronically underperforming schools

Districts will continue to be classified at the level of their lowest performing school, consistent with the state’s current school and district accountability and assistance framework. Data will also be used to identify and recognize high achieving and/or greatly improving schools, known as Commendation Schools.

Under NCLB’s original goal – 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014 – rising federal targets resulted in far too many schools and districts being identified as in need of improvement to enable the state to effectively identify those in greatest need of assistance or intervention. In 2011, at the same time that Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders outscored their peers in the other 49 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics for the fourth consecutive time, the federal metric identified 81 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Massachusetts’s waiver will help move away from a “one size fits all approach” under NCLB, and allow for differentiated supports and interventions to schools and districts. These tools will be available through a range of vehicles and will vary in scope to target particular areas that need strengthening. Massachusetts will no longer mandate NCLB school choice and supplemental educational services (SES). Instead, supports and interventions will include: expanding learning opportunities for struggling students, which may include tutoring and other supports offered through strategic partnerships; professional development that is embedded, sustained, and connected to educators’ needs; and other supports aligned to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 11 Conditions for School Effectiveness, including those that address students’ social-emotional needs and family-school engagement.

For additional information on the state’s waiver request, visit the Department’s No Child Left Behind page at

Quick update on MCAS

Last week I presented our MCAS data to both the school committee and a small group of Winthrop parents. The school committee presentation was an overview, and the parent presentation was a bit more detailed with background on the test, terminology, and multiple ways of looking at data.

If you weren’t able to attend, the Powerpoint is now posted on our website. It can also be reached directly by clicking  WinthropMCAS.

Third grade parents – there will be another MCAS overview in late February – early March particularly geared to those new to MCAS.   That presentation will focus less on data, and more on the process of testing.   Look for that information after the new year!

What’s the Word on MCAS?

I think it must be quite confusing to be a non-educator and understand the recent press surrounding Winthrop’s MCAS results! In the course of a week I looked at rankings on (9/22/11) where the number of students scoring proficient and advanced for Gr. 3 ELA, Grade 5 ELA, Math, and Science were in the top 10% of the state, Grade 4 ELA in the top 20% of the state, and Grade 3 Math and Grade 4 Math in the top 30% of the state.  Then the Melrose Patch (9/22/11) noted our 5th grade success, but also pointed out the rise of students in the Needs Improvement category in 3rd grade math, and then that was quickly followed by a Boston Globe article (Globe North 9/25/11) that cited Winthrop as #1 in the region for having students in the Advanced category in English Language Arts.  Hmmm…. what to take from all of this –  that is the question.

If you know anything about data collection and analysis, you know there are many ways to approach reporting.  Some of the ways MCAS scores are spoken or written about include:

  • AYP – the acronym for “Annual Yearly Progress.”  As a result of No Child Left Behind and the goal of all students reaching proficiency by 2014, each school is given a target goal for the following year in both ELA and Math.  Meeting or not meeting “AYP” is often a hotly publicized issue, as there are multiple factors that go into the determination.  More information can be found at:
  • Year to year comparisons of achievement results (ex. 3rd grade results in 2010 compared to third grade test results in 2011.)  This is a fairly typical way the press compares MCAS scores, however many educators do not favor this way as the comparison is based on two different groups of students.
  • Same group comparisons of achievement results (ex. 4th grade results in 2010 compared to fifth grade results in 2011.)  This way of looking at data compares the same group of students as they progress through the grades.
  • There are also now growth comparisons for students, schools, and districts.   Growth comparisons (also known as SGP – student growth percentiles) are relatively new and look at a student’s progress over time in relation to a similar group of peers across the state.  More information about SGP can be found at:

In a nutshell, at Winthrop, we are thrilled with our results across the board last year.  We are above the state average in every test, at each grade level.  We have a large percentage of students scoring advanced or proficient in every area and are considered to be a very high performing school by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  They also rate our school as having moderate/high growth in ELA (we’re on the border of the two rankings) and high growth in Math.

Next Tuesday, October 11th, the elementary principals will present MCAS results to the school committee, and next Wednesday, October 12th I will give a parent presentation with Winthrop specific information here at school.  I hope you will consider attending and learning more about MCAS testing, reporting results, and how we improve from here!