MCAS testing and what to do with the information was on the table when the Rochester School Committee met on November 2.

            “We’re back at a place where MCAS data is starting to become more meaningful,” said Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson, qualifying the remark by noting that MCAS provides one data point among multiple ones. But the point was clear. “But I think the important piece for us to remember right now is that MCAS data, from a state standpoint and for us is a data point that we’re looking at a road to learning recovery.

            “We’re really looking at, ‘where were students in 2019 from a teaching-and-learning standpoint, and what is the data telling us now in terms of how students are performing … on MCAS?’ There’s a lot of points of pride, but there are some areas (needing improvement). … More importantly, do we have plans in place already or are there plans in place that we’re going to have to make to try to increase academic achievement?”

            Nelson pointed to statewide trends of concern for the earliest learners with literacy and science and math to some degree with Grade 3.

            “We share some of those, not all of them. We can certainly acknowledge those trends and feel them here at Rochester Memorial,” he said. “When you hear the data presented from our building principal and our assistant superintendent, you’re going to see we have a lot to be proud of. We have, again, some areas for opportunity, and what I’m most excited about I think that the work that this committee has done from a literacy standpoint in really the past two years to position ourselves for Year 1 of implementation, really supports the trend of data that the MCAS is showing.”

            Nelson said that the needs of the whole child remain the district’s focus, “and we are certainly seeing greater need from the whole child than we were seeing in 2019. … They’re learning much more than what the MCAS is asking, and that’s what we’re here for each and every day.”

            With that, Nelson handed the floor to Dr. Shari Fedorowicz, ORR’s assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning.

            The summary of scores were as follows: 530-560 Exceeding Expectations; 500-529 Meeting Expectations; 470-499 Partially Meeting Expectations and 440-469 Not Meeting Expectations.

            Student Growth Percentiles (SGP’s) were issued to students having registered prior scores and having met current grade-level requirements on a 1-99 scale and are measured against the state’s mean SGP. English Language and Mathematics are counted but not Science.

            Summarizing that ORR students have tested in the normal range through 2019. MCAS took a year off for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In 2021, Grades 3-8 experienced a partial return to MCAS testing. Since 2022, MCAS testing has been fully back.

            “One of the biggest things to keep in mind with this is that we’re not only looking at our achievement … scores, but … the scores aren’t necessarily where they were in 2019. A lot has happened in five years, so the state is calling that the recovery piece and recovery going back to what our scores were in 2019,” said Fedorowicz. “So we’re trending up, which is great.”

            The slide, said Fedorowicz, has stopped, and local students are now back on a recovery schedule with their test scores.

            At Rochester Memorial, Grades 3-6 performed better than they did last year and better than the state average in English Language Arts and in Mathematics. Grade 5 Science scores were lower than last year’s but better than the state average.

            Grade 3 across the state generally saw flat results (these students were in kindergarten during the pandemic.)

            Fedorowicz guided the committee through a graphics presentation of data for students across the ORR District in Grades 3-12 from 2019 to 2023. The information broke down to Grades 3-6, measuring ORR’s recovery to be above the state average in English Language Arts.

            She said that ORR’s acceleration in recovery “speaks volumes about our educators here at RMS.”

            Rochester Memorial School’s Interim Principal Heidi Letendre noted that students considered “proficient” are testing 7% above the state average, while the average ORR student is still testing 3% better than last year and 2% above the state average.

            Language/Writing was one of the rare cases in which local Grade 3 students tested below the state average. In several other ELA categories, the same students tested significantly above the state average.

            Grade 5 students ranked behind the state average in multiple ELA categories, but Grade 6 students ranked above the state average in those same ELA categories. Grade 5 was better in math but still with weak areas.

            “We definitely have some learning gaps,” said Letendre, expressing confidence in the district’s new Into Reading literacy program.

            The report identified highlights for different grade levels in ELA, Mathematics and Science and recommended action plans to shore up areas that have fallen behind.

            Expressing thanks on behalf of the committee and the community, Chairperson Sharon Hartley recognized the effort that went into analyzing the data and putting it to use in planning to support learning among all the students.

            “I have great confidence that knowing where we are situated right now with a strong, new science curriculum and a strong, new approach in reading and news materials and with the science of reading … it’s all worth it,” said Hartley. “When you look at the data, when you look at the performance and you look hard at what you need to improve on, we can do that.”

            Member Anne Fernandes noted that ORR’s writing program is embedded in Into Reading. Fedorowicz said the Hill is rolling the program out in steps to avoid overwhelming the students. She said teachers meet with the Hill on a monthly basis to analyze testing. She said there will be specific instruction in writing.

            Fernandes questioned if more dips in performance should be anticipated. Fedorowicz said the priority is to get the reading component solidly in place, then delve more heavily into writing.

            Member Robin Rounseville asked about what other assessments are saying about students’ performance. Nelson said the district has relied on Aimsweb but uses it more as a screener; therefore, scores look higher.

            The committee reviewed the draft school calendar for the 2024-25 academic year. Nelson said the Joint School Committee requested a draft sooner than it is typically received for its discussion and vote. Nelson said he would like to see the Rochester School Committee act on the calendar in January so as to allow for planning time for the students and professional development.

            The committee heard a report from Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber, who reported an unencumbered $625,000 remaining in the operations budget.

            In reporting on Food Services and Facilities, Barber noted that lunches are down. Rounseville said she has heard that some students find the lunch line to be too long. Nelson indicated that the factor is one administration will consider going forward.

            The white-colored overhang at RMS is starting to rust, and April vacation is being targeted as a repair date.

            In her Chairperson’s Report, Hartley expressed concern about “school culture and climate.” She identified three things that had happened over the past month. The Trunk & Treat (parking-lot) event was collaborative and was a success. She also noted Nature’s Classroom and the work of the Celebrations Committee as important factors in students’ well-being.

            The ORR Unified Basketball Team will play against Tri-Town Police on Tuesday, November 21, at 6:30 pm at the ORRHS gym.

            During Open Comment, Karen Thomas expressed concern over the committee’s support of the changing of pronouns in the Student Handbook from “she/her” to “they/them” and questioned whether the committee represents the community. She asked if a parent can just opt out and said she is “disgusted with the whole thing.”

            The committee entered executive session and only returned to adjourn the public meeting.

            The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee will be held on Thursday, December 14, at 6:30 pm at RMS, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, January 18, at 6:30 pm at ORR Junior High School media room.

Rochester School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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