By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Saying “the buck stops with me,” Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills made clear to the School Committee his intent to raise student “subgroup” MCAS scores “between 10% and 20%” this year. The subgroups that have been identified as needing improvement include English Language Learners, Special Education students, African-American and Latino students and students from low income families.
Under the new Common Core standards that are tied to the “Race to the Top” initiative, Superintendents as well as faculty must undergo a specific evaluation process. At the November 5 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Sills presented three personal practice and one student learning goals for which he will later evaluated by the School Committee.
For the student learning goal, Sills honed in on improving Math MCAS scores in grades 4, 6, 7, 8 and English Language Arts reading comprehension scores in grades 2,3,4. These clusters of low scores are the reason that Davis and Lane Schools earned the lower Level 2 rating that has, in turn, caused the district’s ranking to slip.
[See a preliminary examination of the most recent MCAS scores: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/09/26/mcas-and-boston-magazine-rankings-examined/ ]
“We are moving together as a system so that all of the [teachers’ and administration’s] goals are synchronized and aimed at a common set of objectives,” Sill said. “My own professional practice goal is to lead that process. The student learning goal [that I’ve chosen for my focus] is to improve the MCAS scores in the [subgroups, particularly of the lower grades]. These are goals that are then reflected both at the principals’ level and then in the Professional Learning Communities or PLCs to improve these scores. Ultimately, the buck stops with me so I’m staying on top of that and trying to provide whatever leadership and support I can.”
New programs in the Math and English Language Arts at the elementary level are in place under the eye of Assistant Superintendent Claire Jackson. They include initiatives designed to improve reading comprehension such as the Wilson language basics program called “Fundations” and the “enVision Math” curriculum. Skills centers at JGMS should also “make a huge difference,” Sills said.
School Committee reaction was supportive but cautious, with several members expressing concern that the goal might be overly ambitious and difficult to achieve.
“It’s your goal,” said School Committee member Ann Guay, “but I think 10-20% would be borderline miraculous. ‘Ambitious’ is a better way to put it. I would recommend 10% because I think it’s measurable and do-able.”
Committee member Abbie Seibert added that “going out on a limb with those MCAS scores [was] a risk”.
“[MCAS] is only one measure,” Seibert said to Sills. “There are others. [Making this the goal] does show your dedication.”
“We’re asking teachers to demonstrate growth on the part of their students,” Sill responded. “We’re going to be asking them more and more to meet district measures such as [evaluating] thinking skills and application skills that may not be reflected in the MCAS.
“But, at the same time, we acknowledge that MCAS—particularly in Math and ELA—does measure certain level of skill-building. As long as our subgroups lag behind, it says something about a need we should be meeting,” Sills concluded.