Test Scores: Excellence in Advanced Placements and English Language Arts, Mixed Results in Math

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

(c) The Beekman Chronicle

Superintendent Jon Sills reported a variety of standardized test results to the School Committee on September 18th.

This past spring, 119 Bedford High students took a total of 188 Advanced Placement tests (APs) in subjects spanning all subject areas. 75% of the test scores ranked at the highest levels (4’s and 5’s), with the majority earning 5’s. According to Sills, this high level of achievement exceeds both the Massachusetts averages and the global averages significantly.

On the Physics C exam, for example, Sills reported that for the eight students who took it,  the average score was 4.75, meaning that most of them received 5’s. The Massachusetts average for that test last year was 3.90. On the Environmental Science exam, 21 Bedford students took it and achieved a 4.33 average score. The state average is 2.86.

Sills noted that there are subject areas in which Bedford does not have AP courses, although a large number of students take the AP exam anyway. In Psychology, a subject at BHS with no AP course, 17 students took the exam and got a 3.82 average. Five students scored 5’s and seven of them got 4’s. In English Literature, 23 students took the test; 10 of these students scored 5’s and 10 more received 4’s.

Bedford has resisted creating AP courses in all subject areas because the upper level classes that are provided are seen to be more robust than standardized or “canned” AP courses.  Sills says that the high school is looking at the correlation between AP test scores and course grades. In some of the classes, students who earn A’s also receive 5’s on the AP but in others, students are getting 5’s on the AP but only receiving B’s for the course. Sills says that they want to better understand why this is happening.

Bedford also achieved excellence in the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams last spring, showing a 3+ point improvement over last year. The town’s ranking was determined by scores at the 10th grade level, the point at which students are assessed for graduation eligibility. If a student does not receive at least a “proficient” ranking, he/she has two more opportunities to re-take the test to achieve that level.

[To see Bedford’s comparative ranking in ELA, visit: https://www.boston.com/news/special/education/mcas/scores12/10th_top_schools.htm ]

Leading up to his report about less positive news regarding Bedford’s MCAS math scores, Sills provided the School Committee with some background: Massachusetts has been given an exemption for No Child Left Behind requirements because it is a comparatively high performing state. As such, it has less room for improvement and cannot improve annually to the same extent as lower performing states. Because of this, a new metric called PPI (Pupil Performance Index) has been developed for states like Massachusetts.

“PPI is more focused on how we’re closing achievement gaps,” said Sills. “There are five levels of PPI that are based on a baseline that is established both for our aggregate numbers and for our identified cohorts that are of high need, because the primary focus of this is to look at how we’re doing with high needs.”

Sills explained the PPI ranking system: If you get 100 using the Pupil Performance Index you have exceeded your target and a 75 means you’ve met your target.  A 50 means you’ve improved, but you haven’t met the target and a 25 means there’s been no change from the previous year.

At John Glenn Middle and the Lane schools, Bedford did not meet its targets in math, falling below the 75 required.  Sills stated that this score demonstrates that there is work to be done, particularly around the highest need populations: homeless, English Language Learners (ELL), Special Education and low income.

One idea about how to improve students’ math outcomes is to align the math programs across the grades. Currently, there are different programs at Davis, at Lane and at JGMS. “It’s pointing us in the direction of more vertical work to ensure that everybody’s on the same page and building the skills that they need to build,” Sills said.

A second realization is that more interventions are needed to support students who require it in order to succeed. “The support we intend to provide for ELL students in math achievement is going to help point us in the right direction,” said Sills.

The Superintendent also identified the schedule at JGMS as a third stumbling block in the way of success, saying that they would be taking a look at it in the coming months.

As a result of having not met the math targets at the two schools, Bedford will be ranked as a “number two school.” Although targets have otherwise been met, the math scores at Lane and JGMS scores result in the whole district dropping from number one status to number two. “If there’s any school not meeting the target, the whole district is categorized by that score….That’s the way they do it,” Sills reported.

Only a handful of schools have number one status, according to Sills.  Other highly regarded school systems such as Lexington, Weston, Wayland, Wellesley and Brookline all missed their targets have also been given second tier status due to their 2012 MCAS results.

“I think the overarching message is that our MCAS scores indicate that Bedford continues to be a high-performing district and we’re doing quite well. At the high school, we meet and exceed the target—98% of our kids are meeting the target and 83% of our high-need kids are meeting the target. In our overall scores, we’re in the 93rd percentile against any other institution….I’m confident we’ll be able to take care of [the problems these math scores identify.] We’re making it a priority,” Sills concluded.

To look at the full report about Bedford’s 2012 MCAS results, visit https://www.boston.com/news/special/education/mcas/scores12/results/bedford.html#Bedford%20High%20School