HARVARD -- Bromfield School Principal James O'Shea and Hildreth Elementary School Principal Linda Dwight made a joint presentation of the analysis of the Harvard Public School District's 2012 MCAS, SAT, and AP results during the last Harvard School Committee meeting.
The two reported that there was great news for the school district. For example, English language arts (ELA) scores for fifth-grade students last year ranked 4th of 881 state schools. In math, fifth-graders ranked 64th out of 881, and in science, they ranked 39th of 881.
In English, 10th-graders ranked first out of 348; in math, 10th out of 348; and in science, 15th out of 341.
Dwight said she had looked over the data over time and, although the MCAS scores were impressive, she had noticed that they were about the same year after year. After she spoke with the teachers about the data for areas of needed improvement, they began analyzing their own teaching and focusing more on those specific areas.
According to Dwight, the work paid off. In all subject areas, there were a higher number of students who ranked in the advanced category in 2012.
"In every single grade and subject our scores went up," she said. "That is exactly the kind of movement you want."
"The number of proficient and advanced in fifth-grade science is remarkable," she continued. Dwight attributed the significant increase over the scores from previous years to the new practice of having teachers who had taught the students in previous years go into the classrooms, and remind students of what they had learned in the earlier grades.
It helps them to re-engage with information they had learned before," she said.
Bromfield test scores
In ELA, 91 percent of sixth-graders, 93 percent of seventh-graders, and 98 percent of eighth-graders scored in the advanced or proficient categories, but compared to the high-school level courses, O'Shea said he would like more middle-school students to be in the advanced range.
In 10th grade, 98 percent of students scored as advanced or proficient, with 79 percent in the advanced category. The percentages in the advanced category for the lower grades were 18 for grade 6, 16 for grade 7, and 36 percent for grade 8.
Rather than focus on MCAS questions to improve student scores, the school council has begun to discuss and focus on specific skills, O'Shea said.
Now, with the new frameworks, the faculty is talking about the new Common Core Standards. They need to incorporate the new frameworks for this year. The staff is doing an outstanding job in doing that," he added.
The teachers identified a number of areas to incorporate changes for this year, including good writing and open response question skills.
In science, the 10th grade scores were outstanding, with 46 percent advanced and 48 percent proficient, and in mathematics, the hard work of the faculty and students at all grade levels showed that nearly every student, no matter the demographic, scored in the proficient to advanced range in 10th grade, O'Shea said.
School Committee member Kirsten Wright noted that the middle school years could be "bumpy."
"I wonder if the teachers and the school should continue to help our students improve, but as long as the end result is this, it makes sense to let them be bumpy in the 6th-8th-grade years. I don't think it is a bad thing necessarily, so long as they get here," she said.
There are many bumps also in terms of who makes the assessment," replied O'Shea. "We have to be willing to accept some bumpiness. We don't want to create an instructional program geared only toward MCAS."
Maybe (grade) 6-8 teachers can spend more time teaching kids just how to be a student," Wright added.
Individual student progress
School Committee member Keith Cheveralls congratulated the two principals on their successes. "As I look at these statistics, I am reminded of the growth mind assessment. The 10th grade is not a continuum as they go through the school when you look at the 10th grade next year," he noted.
"As a school district we have not set goals, per se, other than high expectations. How do you use this data in a growth model assessment sense to show that our (individual) students are making progress?"
Dwight answered by showing the committee the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education aggregate math and ELA growth models for the district that indicate students' change in performance over time. Both growth models indicate a high overall rate of achievement.
The two principals added that other subject areas such as the arts and electives are also very important for student growth and development.
"Truly, if you let too many bumps happen, then other groups have to work harder to fill the gap you missed," said Dwight. "The (MCAS) test is moving to more about thinking strategies, responding to literature, and providing evidence."
So long as we continue to go from needs improvement to proficient, and from proficient to advanced, we are making progress," added O'Shea. "If we can focus on how students acquire those skills to continue that movement that shows we are making progress. The growth model will then take care of itself."
Advanced placement courses
There are currently about 130 Bromfield students filling 265 slots in 11 different AP courses, 91 percent of whom rated three or higher on AP placement exams. AP exam scores are reported on a five-point scale, with three being qualified.
O'Shea stated that parents tell him that the AP courses offered at Bromfield save them time and money when it comes to college coursework for their students.
The average 2012 SAT scores for males was 611, and for females 594. By comparison, the state averages were 530 and 508, respectively; the national averages were 514 and 488. The world language assessments were also high.