DHS test scores show improvementSunday, October 30, 2011 By Heather Gagne
Administrators and teachers across the state are celebrating the recently released MCAS scores. According to The Standard Times, most districts across the South Coast area posted gains in MCAS scores for fifth through tenth graders in public school systems. Released Tuesday, September 20, MCAS scores showed that not only did the South Coast area improve scores, but the statewide proficiency on the fifth grade ELA portion of the test improved by four points. At Dartmouth High School, Principal Kerry Lynch said, “I am very happy with our performance.” Although the highest performing district in the area was Old Rochester Regional, Ms. Lynch said, “I’m happy to say our growth percentage was significantly higher than theirs. We definitely are improving in some areas. There is significant gain.” With a nine percent increase in students scoring Advanced in ELA, DHS is showing its strength in the English Language department. Not only did the school improve on MCAS, but on SAT scores, too. Critical reading and writing scores increased from last year, a significant improvement for DHS. Although she could not release exactly what she thinks is causing the increases, Ms. Lynch thinks that the improvement correlates with the MCAS assembly and similar standards across classrooms of all subjects. Before the MCAS, the sophomores were brought into the auditorium for an assembly on the importance of MCAS. Students learned about the Abigail Adams scholarship which provides free tuition to a state school for students who receive at least one proficient and one advanced score on the MCAS. “Some of the kids know that they will pass, so they don’t try very hard. But when they hear about the free tuition they can receive, they might try harder. You can’t say your sophomore year that you won’t need the money. Things will change in the next two years for them,” said Ms. Lynch. Although there was improvement in the English sections, the math portion of the test has left some topics uncovered. The open response questions are where many DHS students are falling behind. To counteract this trend, DHS is trying to incorporate reading and writing across all subjects, including even physical education and art. “The big step is to have reading and writing across all curriculums,” said Ms. Lynch. Across all grades, Dartmouth has higher scores than the state average for students who score proficient or higher except for in fourth grade. On the English Language Arts portion, 49% of fourth graders in Dartmouth scored proficient or higher yet the state average was 53%. There were similar discrepancies on the math portion. Forty-two percent of students earned proficient or higher, yet the state average is 47%. With only about four in ten fourth graders receiving an acceptable grade, many changes will have to occur to remedy these issues. Average Yearly Progress (AYP) is an indicator provided by the state that helps schools strive to do better than the previous year. “We did not meet AYP in math for the [district]. It’s not a problem, however, until you don’t make AYP two years in a row in the same subject,” said Ms. Lynch. “Our growth however has gone up significantly in previous years from 42-53%, where the benchmark is 50%,” she continued. For students who did not meet the criteria required for graduation, there is no mandatory tutorial or help, but there is a program available for them if they wish to participate. “Mrs. Patterson writes for a grant that the state gives for MCAS preparation,” said Ms. Lynch. “By digging deep into the questions, we can analyze the weaknesses,” said Mrs. Lynch. By prodding through multiple choice questions and looking at the percentages of students who got them right and wrong, teachers can steer their teaching to better suit the needs of students. However, this leads some people to wonder if now the school is solely teaching to help kids pass standardized testing. By focusing solely on multiple choice and open response questions that are likely to appear on the MCAS or SAT, teachers may bypass other topics that may be more important in the long run. “I think DHS is on a roll, and is really focused and has the talent to do [well],” said Ms. Lynch.