State finds dozens of schools in Central Mass. need ‘assistance or intervention’
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2018 at 7:46 PM
Updated Sep 28, 2018 at 1:10 PM
Across the region are 36 schools the state has deemed to be in need of “assistance or intervention,” under new accountability standards unveiled Thursday, most of them in five school districts.
That designation still carries some uncertainty, according to some school officials, however, as the state pauses its usual practice of distinguishing the worst performing schools and districts within that group.
The new accountability system, which does away with the 1-through-5 school and district rating scale, drew criticism from teachers unions, who see the same problems with the new system as they did with the old.
In Central Massachusetts, most of the schools identified by the state for further assistance or intervention are in urban and rural districts. Worcester, the region’s largest system, has the most, with 11: Burncoat Middle School, Burncoat High School, Canterbury Street Magnet Computer-Based School, Clark Street School, Columbus Park Preparatory Academy, Grafton Street School, North High School, South High Community School, Sullivan Middle School, Vernon Hill School, and Worcester East Middle School.
Fitchburg has six, namely Longsjo Middle School, Fitchburg High School, Goodrich Academy, McKay Arts Academy, Memorial Middle School, and Reingold Elementary School. Southbridge has four: Charlton Street School, Southbridge High School, Southbridge Middle School, and West Street School. Webster – Bartlett High School, Park Avenue Elementary and Webster Middle School – and Winchendon – Murdock High School, Murdock Middle School and Toy Town Elementary – have three apiece.
The other schools requiring assistance or intervention are Athol Community Elementary School and Athol High School in the Athol-Royalston district; Gardner Academy for Learning and Technology in Gardner; Leicester Middle School; Nashoba Regional High School; North Brookfield High School; Quabbin Regional High School; and David Prouty High School and Knox Trail Middle School in the Spencer-East Brookfield district.
Every one of those schools except Athol Community Elementary School received the designation because the state determined they were “in need of focused/targeted support” to address specific issues. The Athol school was found to be in need of broad, comprehensive support, according to the state.
Unlike in the past, the ratings were based on more than just students’ scores on the MCAS, the latest of which were also released Thursday. Other factors, including absenteeism rates, English proficiency among English language learners, and the amount of advanced coursework in Grades 11 and 12, were also considered.
While some school officials, including Worcester Superintendent Maureen Binienda, on Wednesday voiced their appreciation for some aspects of the state’s latest approach to measuring accountability, the new system did not go over well with teachers unions.
“The state’s new MCAS-based accountability system is as predictable and destructive as the old system,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said in a statement Thursday.
“The results show that schools serving a high percentage of low-income students, English learners and students of color do not perform as well as those that serve more affluent students.”
Roger Nugent, president of the Educational Association of Worcester, also criticized the revamped accountability ratings, saying teachers are “frustrated” to once again be dealing with another kind of label from the state.
“I don’t like it. It doesn’t reflect the teaching and learning going on in these specific buildings,” he said. “I believe each school has its own personality. You can’t always use the same benchmark for one as you do for another.”
State officials this week cautioned against making direct comparisons between the new accountability measures and the old ones, which assigned number ratings to schools, the lowest of which triggered a state takeover. Robert Curtin, the state education department’s associate commissioner for data and accountability, characterized the new system as more of a helpful than punitive too. “Primarily, we’re looking at, are schools moving in the right direction?” he said.
“This assessment system allows us to slice the data in a different way,” said Ruthann Goguen, Webster’s superintendent. “You can really see which (student) groups are not getting what they need.”
Robert Jokela, the interim superintendent of Fitchburg, said, “It’s really a learning experience we’re going through,” trying to understand the new system. There’s been no indication from the state whether any schools are in imminent jeopardy of being downgraded to underperforming status after this year, he said.
“I don’t know what the state’s plans are,” he said. “But here there is a sense of urgency to support teaching and learning for all of our students.”
Teachers unions argued there won’t be much to show for the state’s new accountability standards if districts don’t also get the funding they need to improve their schools. This summer, the Legislature failed to agree on a bill that would have reformed the state’s school funding formula and provided more money to the neediest districts.
“Educators are frustrated – more and more always seems to be put on their plate to push schools forward,” Mr. Nugent said. “The elephant in the room is (the state) needs to adequately fund education.”