The Old Rochester Regional School Committee on October 24 got familiar with the state’s new accountability measures for the next generation MCAS, with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos explaining the Department of Education’s (DOE) shift in focus on accountability and progress versus performance scores.
The DOE has added a number of new criterion-referenced components that, in addition to test scores, contribute to the overall score the state gives to each school district. The new accountability measures aim to track accountability percentiles and progress towards targets by providing information about, not only school performance, but also on what Frangos referred to as “student opportunities beyond test scores.”
“And the focus now is on raising the performance of each school’s lowest performing students,” Frangos said.
In the past, the district focus was on specific subgroups such as high needs, students with disabilities, and other demographics broken down from the overall student scores.
“Right now the focus is, how do we bring the lowest performing students up regardless of what subgroup they belong to, so that is a distinct shift with the new system,” said Frangos.
The state has discontinued rating schools by levels 1-5, and instead is now classifying schools by district level data and not comparing the school to others. The measures still prioritize student growth, Frangos said, but new accountability components include data that reflects chronic absenteeism and high school graduation rates, as well as English language learners (ELL), which currently does not apply to ORR with so few in the district.
As for absenteeism, “If a student is not present in school … we cannot teach them and he or she cannot learn,” said Frangos. The state is now looking at the percentage of students who are chronically absent, missing 10% or more school days during the school year. “That puts us at an unfortunate rating by the Department of Education,” stated Frangos.
“It does not matter if it is an excused or an unexcused absence,” said junior high school Principal Kevin Brogioli. “From the school level, you can have a medical reason to be out for two months and be legitimately excused from us, but it doesn’t change the state’s view of things.”
That means family vacations, family engagements – “Those all count against the school.”
Frangos reviewed the weight of each indicator that all factor into the final rating for a district like ORR without ELL students – performance on math, ELA, and science count 47.5% towards the school as a whole, while student growth weighs in at 22.5%. High school completion
makes up 20% of the rating, and the “additional factors” category that includes chronic absenteeism and the total number of students completing advanced coursework makes up another 10%.
At the elementary and junior high school level, Frangos pointed out, “High chronic absenteeism can drag down our performance.”
As the ORR School District digests this new data and accountability system, Frangos said, “We are going to be focusing on, first of all, who are our lowest performers and how do we raise their achievements…? How do we help them any way possible?”
Superintendent Dr. Doug White wanted the school committee to understand that the district was not aware of the new accountability system until August of this year, well after students completed the MCAS before summer break.
“It did give us some pause because we didn’t quite know about these criteria for these measures,” said White.
Overall at the junior high, the school earned a 40% for the criterion-referenced target percentage; in other words, the junior high did not quite meet that desired 50% mark indicating a school is meeting its targets, rather it scored just under in the “partially meeting expectations” rating. Extrapolating the results shows where the school fell short in specific areas such as performance in ELA for all students, which earned 0 out of 4 possible points, an indication that growth targets were not met, although the lowest 25% of performers earned a 2 out of 4, showing no growth (same as last year) performance improvement. In math, both groups earned a 2 out of 4, and all students in science earned a 2 out of 4. In the area of growth, all students and the lowest 25% scored 2 and 3 out of 4, respectively, in both the ELA and math subjects. When it came to absenteeism, however, all students earned 0/4 and the lowest performing 25% received 1/4.
The high school was given a 48% overall rating, just under the 50% meeting expectations rating. ELA performance was at 4/4 and 1/4 for all students and the 25% lowest performers, respectively, and in math, the scores were 1/4 and 0/4. Science was 1/4 and 4/4. In growth, the high school in ELA got 2/4 and 1/4, in math 2/4 and 2/4, and a 3/4 for graduation rate. For chronic absenteeism, the school scored 4/4 for all students, and 0/4 for the lowest 25% performing students.
“So we received partially meeting targets for both high school and junior high,” said Frangos.
White broke down the meaning of the numbers 0-4: a 0 or 1 means a drop in performance or growth, a 2 means no change, a 3 is meeting the target, and a 4 is exceeding the target.
“What is the key here?” said high school Principal Mike Devoll. “My takeaway is attendance.” And as Frangos later pointed out, whether the absences are excused or not excused, “There’s no negotiating it: there’s no way around it.”
In concluding, Frangos offered, “I think these tests give us sort of a dipstick – a pulse on how we can help kids. … We need to really make sure that our kids get the skills that they need for a 21stcentury world, but also notice and recognize … their capacity to learn and push themselves.”
Also during the meeting, the committee revisited the topic of appropriating stipends to the elected members of the ORR School Committee, but in the end during a 5-3 vote, the committee opposed the motion to bring the topic forward to the committee’s budget subcommittee for consideration, choosing to not pursue a stipend for themselves.
The next meeting of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee is scheduled for December 5 at 6:30 pm in the junior high school media room.
Old Rochester Regional School Committee
By Jean Perry