For the first time ever, and just two weeks before the Cambridge Public School Committee Elections, the Cambridge public school district has been labeled “in need of improvement” due to the results of last spring’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing.
The MCAS are annual achievement tests administered in Math and Language Arts to third through tenth graders, and in Science in grades five, eight, and ten.
Districts that do not meet the Math and English Language Arts targets for their states two years in a row, or their individual improvement targets based on the school’s prior year’s performance, are labeled as needing improvement.
For the second consecutive year, the Cambridge district’s test scores fell below the state target.
The city was 10.1 points below the 84.3 Massachusetts state target composite performance index for Math and 6.8 points below the 90.2 state target composite performance index for English Language Arts.
Despite the fact that the district spends $25,000 on each student, more than almost any other district in Massachusetts, Cambridge students performed below the state average. The district scored 4.3 points below the state average in Math, with a composite performance index of 74.2, and 3.1 points below the state average in English Language Arts, with a composite performance index of 83.4.
Additionally, the achievement gap—a nationally-seen disparity in the test scores of white and minority students—was particularly salient in the results. Overall, the composite performance index in both subjects for White and Asian students was actually higher than the state average, but Black, Hispanic, and low income students all fell far below the state average.
While 62 percent of White 7th graders in the district were proficient or advanced in math, only 18 percent of Black students were, and while 79 percent of White 7th graders were proficient or advanced in English Language Arts, only 44 percent of Black students met or exceeded standards.
Not surprisingly, school committee members were not pleased with the results of the MCAS.
Committee member Patrica M. Nolan ’80 called the results “devastating.” “We have to get our scores up as a district,” she said.
However, the committee members saw the MCAS as an imperfect measure.
“We need to take it in context,” said school committee member Marc C. McGovern. “They are one measure—an important one—but they don’t tell the whole story.”
Regardless, committee members said they felt that a system that holds teachers more accountable while supporting professional growth is necessary.
Specifically, an MCAS and Adequate Yearly Progress Report released last night outlined measures for improving teaching and learning strategies.
One suggestion included partnering with Harvard “to identify promising practices that are effectively narrowing the gap in student performance.”
Ultimately, McGovern offered an optimistic perspective.
“What we are committed to is a well-rounded, exciting, enriching curriculum and we should not be distressed by the results,” he said.