MWDN: Southborough selectmen hold off vote on school budgets

by susan on March 7, 2012

I couldn’t attend the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday night (and it sadly was not broadcast live), but the Metrowest Daily News was there and reports selectmen decided to defer their vote on whether to support the school budgets this year. The sticking point is apparently MCAS scores.

Selectman John Rooney a couple of weeks ago brought to light what he said was a troubling trend in Southborough’s MCAS scores. Our district’s MCAS Growth – a metric used by the state to evaluate the overall performance of a school independent of individual students – has been lower than the state average for several years running, yet Rooney’s numbers suggest we pay more per pupil than comparable districts.

At a meeting last week, Superintendent Charles Gobron defended the district’s performance, saying MCAS scores are not the “end-all be-all” of metrics.

But if the comments on this blog (here and here) are any indication, residents are concerned about the numbers. Selectman Bill Boland is apparently hearing the same thing from folks around town. Reports the Metrowest Daily News:

Boland said yesterday that he has spoken with residents around town and feels taxpayers want to see some more information from the schools on the topic.

“There are some very valid points that some people are making,” Boland said. “With the data available to the common person, it looks like we’re spending more per pupil (than comparable towns), but are we getting more for our students?”

Selectman Daniel Kolenda said yesterday that he’s satisfied with the job the schools are doing and is prepared to support both budgets.

Selectmen meet next on Tuesday, March 13, and are expected to wrap up their votes on any outstanding town budgets, including those for the schools. I’ll post the meeting details when they’re available.

 

1 Al Hamilton March 7, 2012 at 2:25 PM

The Fiscal End of Year Reports make for some interesting reading (if you are a numbers sort of person). One interesting tidbit:

In the past I have reported that the state data bases suggested that from 2006 to 2010 K-8 teachers in Southborough enjoyed 7+% raises each year. That trend has continued for 2011 with K-8 teachers receiving a 6.6% average raise. Interestingly Northborough raises on average were only 4.5%.

Algonquin come in well ahead of the pack with an average raise of 7.7%

2 susan March 7, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Al, can you share a link to your data?

3 Al Hamilton March 7, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Oops, I forgot to cite my source:

http://southboroughadvisory.shutterfly.com/resources

There are 3 spreadsheets Labeled 11eoy…

They are the first 3 on the Advisory Website Files page.

The average teacher salaries are found on the reports tab (bottom left), at the very bottom of that pages spreadsheet.

These are the spreadsheets that “did not exist”. There is an awful lot of interesting information in these files.

4 John Boiardi March 8, 2012 at 7:26 AM

Al,

Using your figures ( 6-7% yearly raises), what year would you project that the school budget would reach 80, 90, or 100% of the town budget?

5 SB Resident March 7, 2012 at 4:44 PM

I’m with Al, lets concentrate on the outrageous teacher salary increases instead of this MCAS hoopla. I know our schools are good, I don’t care what MCAS says because they don’t count for anything. The question is can they be this good for less. The answer is yes. We could freeze all but the junior teachers salaries for years and I guarantee you none of them would leave.

6 Al Hamilton March 7, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Resident

For all intents and purposes our tax rates are set by 14 people. Their names are:

Susan Dargan
Kathleen Harragan Polutchko
Paul Butka
Joan Frank
Daniel Kolenda
Scott Karpuk
Shirley Lundberg
David Rueger
Susan Sartori
Lynne Winter
Marybeth Strickland
Deborah Keefe
Paul Desmond
Charles Gobron

6 of these are not residents of Southborough. These are the people that negotiate the school labor contracts. Those contracts drive well over half of the expenditures we have. Those contracts are negotiated and for all intents and purposes approved in secret and are not subject to the approval of Town Meeting as other labor contracts are. If you want to know why your taxes are rising ask these 14. Nothing else comes close.

Given that our community will generously fund education noting else done by Town Meeting or the BOS or any other board comes close to having the tax impact that these 14 people have.

Regrettably some of these folks stood before Town meeting and represented a contract that will guarantee average raises which will be pretty much business as usual as 1% or 2% raises. Conveniently citing only the smallest part of the contract while applying selective memory to the unchanged parts that really drive our costs. This behavior treads the mendacity line as close as damn is to swearing.

I do have to disagree with you about the MCAS scores I think they are important. We are paying a premium price for education and should expect uniform excellence. If we do not get it then that is a reflection on those responsible for managing the educational enterprise.

7 John Boiardi March 8, 2012 at 7:09 AM

All and Al

Remember these names when it is time to vote. Better yet, write these names on your quarterly tax bill and take it with you into the voting booth so you will remember their names when you vote.

8 jerry c March 7, 2012 at 5:18 PM

I’ve posted a number of comments on the MCAS scores (in prior articles) In my view there doesn’t appear to any significant problem with our MCAS scores, or the reputation of our system. There are issues, however, with the growth rate in teacher salaries. We need to understand why this has happened and to reduce this trend.

It would be helpful to move away from unfavorable comments about our school system, which cannot be supported with available data, and are hurting the reputation of our community, and move forward with constructive ideas on how we can save money, and still keep our quality system and excellent reputation.

9 Resident March 7, 2012 at 5:25 PM

Does anyone else think it odd that Kokenda states he will support both budgets while at the same time he is also a member of the regional school committee that submits the budget? How can you be involved in a committee that creates and passes a budget at the regional school committee and then be a member of the BOS to vote on the budget? How can he be critical of the product that came out of his committee? Maybe I’m paranoid but is it too far fetched to think that this part of a school plan to infiltrate other boards so that one interest can be advanced?

10 Resident March 7, 2012 at 7:15 PM

I can’t understand the statement from jerry c that “there are not any significant problems with our MCAS scores.” That is not what I see. Taking Trottier as an example, in 2011 out of 378 schools, our 6th graders ranked 262nd in English and 255th in Math in the growth standard and were 12 points below the state average for growth. Our 7th graders ranked 231st in English and 242nd in math, and our 8th graders ranked 208th in English and 131st in Math. I obviously have a different view than those that believe these scores do not present a problem.

Before anyone says the growth standard doesn’t mean anythin, look again. The growth standard is the standard that measures a schools performance. It is even being put into teacher contract negotiations (despite union protest). If the MCAS growth is low, which ours has been for four years now, there shold be a reduction in teacher salaries. That is how significant a standard it is and how reliable the state believes it to be.

Since it is now going to be tied directly to teacher income, my guess is that we will see a upward tick in the MCAS growth standard moving forward.

11 John Boiardi March 8, 2012 at 7:16 AM

Resident,

Right on! Jerry C is satisfied comparing Southborough to the lowest common denominator, the state average.

12 Jerry C March 7, 2012 at 8:34 PM

Resident;
In Spring 2011, the Woodward school scored 88% proficient or higher in reading and 93% in Math. The state average was 61% and 66% respectively .

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/general.aspx?topNavId=1&orgcode=02760050&orgtypecode=6&

Neary was 73% English and 69% math vs 69% and 58% for the state.

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/mcas/performance_level.aspx?linkid=32&orgcode=02760020&orgtypecode=6&

Trottier was 90% English and 67% math vs 69% and 59%.

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/mcas/performance_level.aspx?linkid=32&orgcode=02760305&orgtypecode=6&

Algonquin was 96% English and 92% math, vs 69% and 58%.

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/mcas/performance_level.aspx?linkid=32&orgcode=07300000&orgtypecode=5&

This is just some of the data available, but why does the data matter? The current discussion seems to be less concerned with real data and an objective understanding of our schools performance, and more concerned with an agenda to tie school funding to kind of dubious back of the napkin MCAS analysis based on a single metric…. MCAS Growth.

Problems in school performance should be addressed by parents, individually, or as a group, with elected members of the school committee and school administration. Any parent can attend a school committee meeting and make a point. I’ve always had my calls and emails to the school administration returned.

The parents can handle issues with regarding school performance without other town officials involvement.

13 Al Hamilton March 8, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Gerry, come on we both know that educational outcomes are highly correlated with income and Southborough is one of the states wealthiest communities. Comparing us against state averages is truly meaningless. At a minimum compare us against comparable communities as Mr. Rooney did and as the state does. Then we can figure out if we are doing well when compared to our peers.

I agree with you that a single metric is not sufficient to condemn a system but Mr. Rooney has suggested that there are multiple metrics that suggest we are paying a lot and not getting our monies worth. I am happy to pay but expect uniform excellence and a lot of people are having doubts that we are getting it.

14 Al Hamilton March 8, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Jerry

Your other point that only parents should have a say in school policy is completely off point. The school committee is elected by all the voters not the parents. It relies on millions of dollars provided by all the taxpayers. They have a duty to those constituencies to provide a cost effective quality education. Their performance of those duties is coming into question which is a very important public policy which deserves to be discussed in public.

Only about 1/3 of households in town have children in our schools. In order to maintain the strong consensus that we have for generously funding education the other 2/3 need to be assured that their property values are being supported by a high quality cost effective school system. Those assumptions are now being challenged by inconvenient facts. The school committees lack of confidence in the public, lack of transparency, and apparent coverups are threatening the very quality education that all of us want to provide to the children of our town.

15 C. Nicholas Ellis March 8, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Jerry,

Look again at the numbers you provided for our schools. You’re going to tell me you’re OK with all of them?

Algonquin (Grades 9-12): 96% / 92%
Trottier (Grades 6-8): 90% / 67% – a huge drop in Math proficiency.
Neary (Grades 4-5): 73% / 69% – a very large drop in English and Math proficiency.
Woodward (Grades 2-3): 88% / 93% – a significant rise to more appropriate numbers.

Frankly, I’m not OK with upper 60’s and lower 70’s. We should be upper 80’s and lower 90’s across ALL our schools. Is it possible those numbers are connected to our low MCAS Growth numbers?

16 jerry c March 8, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Al. You are correct. I should have noted “residents”, not parents.

As with move forward on this issue, I hope people will be careful about how they present data. The Middlesex News simply presented a headline story noting that there was a problem with the Southorough MCAS, based simply on the metric of MCAS growth. This simplistic analysis may have temporarily damaged the towns reputation. The fact is that a complete analysis of the systems performance and cost effectiveness would show that we have an excellent, cost effective system… and we should be proud of it.

It was never necessary to bash the school system so that measures could be taken to reduce teacher salary growth. There is obviously an issue there, and this should be addressed outside of the performance discussion.

17 Al Hamilton March 8, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Jerry:

“The fact is that a complete analysis of the systems performance and cost effectiveness would show that we have an excellent, cost effective system”

The fact is that this is a debatable contention which is not necessarily supported by the facts.

If you look at the state DOE spreadsheet cited by Mr. Rooney (http://www.doe.mass.edu/apa/dart/districts.xls) it permits us to compare ourselves against our “peers” as defined by the state. Those are Acton, Boxford, Concord, Lincoln, Mattapoisett, Middelton, Northborough, Sudbury, Topsfield, and Wrentham. I think it is a fair list and it has the benefit of someone else defining it.

For FY 10, Looking at MCAS performance we do well in English scoring a tie for 3rd out of 11. In Math we fare less well coming in 8th out of 11. Northborough, comes in the lowest in Math suggesting that we may have a district wide issue. Leaving aside the issue of MCAS growth where we are at the 11th out of 11 our performance is middling at best when compared to our peers. If this was the A.L. East we would be Toronto and Northborough would be Baltimore.

If you compare us to the category leader, Sudbury, two interesting things appear. First, they kick our butt when it comes to the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in Math and English. They also kick our butts in MCAS growth which is a measure of educational effectiveness. Could there be a link? The second is that they spend a lot less per student than we do. Our per student expenditure was $13,036 in FY 10, Sudbury’s was $11,801. A difference of about $1,200. Interestingly, in FY 06 that difference was only $380. Our per student costs have been rising much faster than theirs and yet they are outperforming us at least by this set of measures. What exactly have we purchased for all that extra spending?

This whole ethos of lets not talk in public about school performance has to go. I am afraid that some long held assumptions that all of us have had about the quality and cost effectiveness of our school system are not standing up too well in the light of information.

18 SB Resident March 8, 2012 at 10:37 AM

The problem with MCAS is that they don’t mean or count for anything (to the kids), except for the one metric of “passing” in order to graduate. I still remember waaayyy back when I took similar tests, we all knew the tests had no bearing on our grades and didn’t try on them, the goal was usually to finish as fast as possible so we could put our head down and rest. That’s how much we cared and why should we have, they didn’t count for anything!!!

I also remember a couple years where we would spend the week prior doing practice tests and example problems. It was uncanny how often almost the same questions were on the tests. I assume this was done, just to appease the residents of my town who thought our scores were too low and they were foolish enough to think a meaningless standardized test from the state was useful to measure the performance of the school. Most of you who want the MCAS scores to mean something don’t trust our state government to do anything right, and you think they are getting this right?

Anyway, yeah we could waste our kids’ time and get the scores up by teaching to the test and using some other creative insentives to the kids. I would even wager that the likes of Shrewsbury are doing just this. Maybe that is even the right thing to do since so many people do seem to care, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would mean our kids are getting a better education.

I’m not even going to lower myself into arguing the fatuity of caring about a one year sample of the growth metric.

This is the metric I care most about, and things look pretty good!
http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ap.aspx (sort by % Score 3-5 (Desc))

This is the one I don’t like. How can a sudbury or westford be 20% less?? Jerry C is very right, it is not necessary to bash the schools to reduce the budget.
http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/teachersalaries.aspx?mode=&year=2010&orderBy=AVERAGE%20DESC

19 jerry c March 8, 2012 at 2:01 PM

C. Nicholas Ellis

Thanks for the constructive comment.

Algonquin and Woodward #’s are outstanding. Same with Trottier ELA That’s the great news.

The Neary school is underperforming. We need some answers. It would be interesting to look at a 10 year history in this school.

Math in grades 4 – 8 is underperforming. Once again, it would be interesting to look at a 10 year history.

At least now we’re talking about real issues. The parents and school committee need specific problems to focus on……not some general MCAS growth rate.

There should be a concern that the underperforming Trottier Math MCAS scores could cause remedial issues in High School. If so, we could see the Algonquin numbers move down over the next few years.

20 Al Hamilton March 8, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Jerry

Here is the district wide math performance for the last 5 years

% of Students Scoring Proficient or Above
2007 – 69%
2008 – 69%
2009 – 69%
2010 – 68%
2011 – 71%

I think we would agree that is pretty consistent indicating that 2010 was not an anomaly.

During the same period by the way the statewide average rose from 53% to 58% a gain of 5 percentage points or a 9.4 % gain depending on how you look at it.

Over the same period Sudbury scored:
2007 – 80%
2008 – 81%
2009 – 83%
2010 – 85%
2011 – 83%

21 Sboro mom of 2 March 8, 2012 at 2:36 PM

I know that a lot of parents in town, including me, are frustrated with this discussion. I keep trying to figure out what, exactly, the issues are. But even after reading through all the posts on this blog, it is very hard to figure out what is actually going on. Everyone is spinning the available information in a way that benefits their argument and the facts aren’t entirely clear. However, here is what I have gathered, and I’m sure I’m missing some points…

– Some people think our teachers are paid too much via automatic raises while other town employees are paid too little, and that this is unfair

– Some people think the fact that our MCAS scores aren’t as high as those of other towns is a problem

– Some people want the school system to stop getting as much funding as it has been getting because they think the schools should do more with less, and that we are not getting our money’s worth

– Some people think the school committee has not been responding in a timely matter to the advisory board’s requests, while others think the advisory board isn’t being fair in its requests

I don’t have a black-and-white stance on any of these issues. I do, however, think something needs to change. I really wish people would just work together and play nice. But that seems impossible in politics, which is what all this is, essentially.

I have been considering running for the school committee myself but after reading all these posts and the comments, I don’t think I have the stomach for the inevitable attacks. Which saddens me. I want to help enact something positive, but I am scared off by the mean-spiritedness and lack of cooperation we have been seeing over the past year or so.

Unless people are willing to be more civil and work together, nothing will ever change – because no one will want to jump into lion pit that is our town’s politics. Including me.

22 Frank Crowell March 8, 2012 at 9:40 PM

SB Mom of 2

 – If you and your friends have been careful readers of this board and the other news outlets, you will then have noticed that the BOE has made its own bed when it comes to “working together” and being “positive.” 



When votes to ratify teacher’s contracts (BOE) do not occur until just after Town Meeting so that the details cannot be discussed during TM, what are we to make of that?



When a selectman takes the time to do a little homework, asks some good questions and then only gets attacked by the BOE instead of answering the questions, who is being disrespectful?



When a citizen asks for budget data that should be easily accessible to any BOE member (meaning they should have had it all along if they were going over the budget numbers in detail), what conclusion do the taxpayers come to?



You should not be intimidated or dissuaded by anyone’s comments on this board if you want to run. In fact, you could plan your campaign by taking in these comments and turning them around. You can start with promising not to attack citizens who ask fact based questions and provide the information to the citizens who ask. Pretty basic stuff.

23 John Boiardi March 9, 2012 at 7:18 AM

Mom of two,

It isn’t politics when your real estate taxes increase 3-5% every year. Expect 3+% again this year. If businesses ” played nice ” as you describe it they would not be in business long.

24 Jerry C March 8, 2012 at 7:41 PM

Sboro mom of 2 and Al;

First, Al, I want to thank you for your comments. We’re beginning to hone on the problems. There is a problem with Math achievement (I assume your numbers are K through 8) and the lack of growth makes me wonder if there is some complacency in the system. The teacher salary growth is certainly an issue, and we need to understand how this is happening. Is it a union contract issue, or state mandate on paying higher salaries to people with graduate degrees? I wish I knew the answer.

When we compare ourselves to Sudbury, it’s interesting to see the difference in the numbers. The Sudbury system is one of the best in the state. Boston Magazine 2011 edition rated it #4 out of 135 districts, while Southborough was rated #8. I’d say there really is a difference between #4 and #8, but being #8 is still pretty good, putting us ahead of towns such as Sharon, Wellesley and Newton (see link below).
http://www.bostonmagazine.com/best-schools-in-boston/index.html

While I note that Sudburys #’s are outstanding, I also must note that I’m not seeing a lot of growth in their #’s either. Over 5 years, Southborough’s #’s improved by 2% (see Als numbers), while Sudbury’s increased by 3%. I think we can all agree that a 1% difference is not very much…. Unless of course you are calculating a growth metric. A growth metric might say that Sudbury is improving at a 50% clip greater than Southborough. Al… am I right on this?….I’m not certain how they do their calculation, but does it seem possible that this is what they’re doing? Anyway, I’ll look more into this to see if I can understand this better.

Sboro mom of 2;

I’m also trying to figure this out. As the MCAS growth metrics note, Southboroughs scores haven’t changed much in 5 years….. and with that being the case, why is there a problem today that didn’t exist, lets say, one or two years ago? Well…. first we need to understand where todays issue was born.

My understanding is that many people in town are concerned about tax growth and school expenses and are looking for fiscal responsibility. The school budget is the town’s biggest expense, so it’s the place to start if you want to get the best bang for the buck. At a recent school committee meeting, a town selectman stated that Southboroughs MCAS growth was below the state average, painting a grim picture of our school system. It was noted “(MCAS Growth data), which has been available for years to our school committee, appears to depict a disconcerting decline in the educational quality of our schools,”. It was then suggested that we tie school budgets to performance (I assume they’re talking MCAS performance…but I can’t be sure).

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve spent more than a few hours grinding the #’s and I see some room for improvement, but no major problems. You can do your own homework on this…. It doesn’t take much time…. or you can go to an objective source like Boston Magazine and let them do the work for you. My analysis of the system gives us an A-… not A, but A-. Algonquin gets an A+. As Al notes, our MCAS performance in town has been consistent, with little growth, but when the kids go to Algonquin, the scores go way up….. and I mean way up.

Boston Magazine rated Algonquin Regional the THIRD best high school in the State of Massachusetts, which has some of the best schools in the world (see link below). It was also rated #2 in cost efficiency (see link below).

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/best_high_school_chart/index.html

So where does that leave us ? It leaves us with a budget issue that we should be able to solve in a constructive way….. and we should all be grateful for what we have.

25 Jerry C March 9, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Just in case anyone is still reading. This is kind of important.
I just read through the MCAS Student Growth Percentiles Interpretive Guide dated March 2011. Just google it and you’ll find it.
It’s a ranking by percentile, and seems to be derived from some kind of percentile model (which I assume if full of assumptions, as most models are). I can’t find anywhere where it’s noted what the actual calculation is, but it does note in the guide that:

1: It’s useful as one piece of information: on page 3 it notes specifically:
“It is important to keep in mind that the student growth percentile is useful to the extent that it is simply another piece of data that educators may use to better understand their students’ performance”.

and further notes:

“The Department hopes that this new measure of student performance provokes high-quality conversations about students, programs, schools, curriculum, and the teaching and learning that take place in every classroom across the Commonwealth”.

2: There seems to be some degree of uncertainty in the model. On page 3 it notes:
“In interpreting these data, it is important to note that differences in growth scores from year to year less than 10 points should not be considered meaningful or significant”.

If the degree of uncertainty is 10 points, that’s VERY SIGNIFICANT. Assuming I’m interpreting this correctly, Southborough may be understated by 10 points, and other schools may be overstated…. We just don’t know.

I really hope that people stop using this metric as a single indicator of performance…..and I expect that people should understand how this # is derived and what it really means before they make unfavorable comments about our school system.

I feel very uncomfortable about this metric and I think we need help from the School Administration on how to understand and interpret it. I will send a note to Dr. Gabron and ask for some help in understanding this.

26 Al Hamilton March 10, 2012 at 8:19 AM

Here is a very good link that answered a lot of my questions about MCAS Growth. http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/growth/faq.html?section=overview I encourage the reader to review this rather than rely on either Jerry or Me to interpret. Here is the summary I found useful:

“The statistic is interpreted as follows: if John Smith, currently a grade 5 student, has a student growth percentile of 65 in English language arts, that means that John improved more between grades 4 and 5 than 65 percent of students statewide with a similar historical pattern of MCAS test scores. Similarly, if John had a student growth percentile of 44 in mathematics, it means that he improved more than only 44 percent of students statewide with a similar MCAS test score history.”

“Massachusetts measures growth for an individual student by comparing the change in his or her MCAS achievement from one year to a subsequent year to that of all other students in the state who had similar historical MCAS results (the student’s “academic peers”). This change in achievement is reported as a student growth percentile (abbreviated SGP) and indicates how high or low that student’s growth was as compared to that of his/her academic peers (See Questions 15 and 16 for technical details).

For a school or district, the growth percentiles for all students are aggregated to create a median student growth percentile for the school or district. The median student growth percentile is a representation of “typical” growth for students in the school or district.”

I think this is an important measure. It takes a lot of social factors like income, race, ethnicity etc out of the equation and asks did a student or a district make more or less progress progress when compared with their academic peers as measured by MCAS. I think our relatively poor math scores are probably what is leading to the assessment that in the K-8 system our children are only improving more than roughly 40% of their peers.

It is only one statistic but I think it is an important measure of educational effectiveness. I am certainly convinced by the data that a substantial review of the K-8 math curriculum needs a very public discussion.

The statistic is interpreted as follows: if John Smith, currently a grade 5 student, has a student growth percentile of 65 in English language arts, that means that John improved more between grades 4 and 5 than 65 percent of students statewide with a similar historical pattern of MCAS test scores. Similarly, if John had a student growth percentile of 44 in mathematics, it means that he improved more than only 44 percent of students statewide with a similar MCAS test score history.

27 Jerry C March 10, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Al, thanks again for your info. You’ve been very helpful in helping me get up to speed on these issues. I researched it a bit and put together an email with some questions and sent it out yesterday.

The problem that I have is that when we look at comparable trends of % proficient/advanced, for, example, Southborough and Sudbury, you can’t clearly see any significant difference in the growth rates (or declines) in the district wide metrics.
For example, from 2010 to 2011, Southboroughs ELA decreased by 1%, while math increased by 2%. In Sudbury ELA was down 1% and Math up 3%. Basically, you can’t see much from the district perspective.

The question I have is, how exactly are the numbers derived? This growth rate is not a simple calculation (like % proficient/advanced) but might be the output of a complex model. If that’s the case, it’s important to understand how the model works, and how confident we should be with the results: Below is the text of my email.

To: growth@doe.mass.edu

Dear Department of Education;

I’m a resident in the Town of Southborough and I’m asking for some assistance in understanding 2011 MCAS Growth Rates for the Town of Southborough.

Recently a town selectman presented information derived from the District Analysis and Review Tool (DART) (the link is below) and concluded that “(MCAS Growth data), which has been available for years to our school committee, appears to depict a disconcerting decline in the educational quality of our schools,”. He has painted a dark picture of our school system.

http://www.mysouthborough.com/2012/02/28/southborough-selectman-says-below-average-mcas-growth-a-troubling-trend/

This person has concluded, with this data, that Southborough is in last place within its peer group. His recommendation is to tie the Southborough school budget to the MCAS Growth metric.

My questions are these:

1: How is the MCAS Growth Rate calculated? I’ve done a little research and it appears that it is generated from a model that looks at aggregate scores ,compares them to a peer group, calculates % change, calculates a median, then determines a percentile. Is this correct (or almost correct)? I really would like to understand this better.

2: How important is this metric? Is it as important as MCAS scores, SAT scores or graduation rates?

3: Should anyone ever use this metric as a single metric to determine the performance of a school system?

4: Would you ever recommend that a town tie its school budget, or teacher performance, to MCAS Growth rates or MCAS Scores?

5: Do the numbers on the report compare 2010 to 2011, or is this an average growth rate for 2007 – 2011? If it’s for 2010 to 2011, where can I see the prior year MCAS Growth?

6: How accurate are the growth rate numbers? I’m asking this because page 3 of the MCAS Student Growth Percentiles Interpretive Guide dated March 2011 notes:

“In interpreting these data, it is important to note that differences in growth scores from year to year less than 10 points should not be considered meaningful or significant”.

Does this mean that district comparisons can be off by as much as 10 points, or is this simply referring to inter-district year to year comparisons?

Your assistance in this matter is very much appreciated.

28 Resident March 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM

We recently moved from Burlington. Burlington has a very good school system and spends about the same per pupil yearly.

After reading all of these posts, I checked and saw that the Burlington school committee and the Supt. consider the growth standard very important. According to the Supt., in response to the 2011 MCAS results, “I am more interested in growth than just test scores,” said Dr. Conti, noting that good test scores obviously mean a lot to him but he believes growth is the key to improving each student’s all-around academic abilities. “I want to see growth for each student because it is a much better indicator of instruction.” He went on to say ““I am never going to be satisfied” with the test results, but noted he wants to continue to see where kids are growing and not growing, adding “that is where we need to focus our attention instructionally.”

The Burlington School Committee agreed saying “The growth factor is very important,” said Christine Monaco. “Finding and correcting weaknesses [in the curriculum] will allow us to continue to see growth go up.”

This was the discussion even though Burlington’s growth has been barely ABOVE the state average for the last four years.

I only point this out because my family comes from a town that also considers education very important. I don’t think you can just say the standard does not matter and I agree with Mr. Hamilton on this point. Lets just acknowledge the weakness and fix it.

29 John Rooney March 10, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Jerry c, I find it somewhat surprising that you have suggested that I have “tied the Southborough school budget to the MCAS Growth metric.” That is incorrect and, from your prior discourse, I suspect you know as such. Lest you forget, the choice to tie budgetary issues to educational results is not mine. The rejoinder at town meeting from the schools is that if the budget is cut, educational results will decline. I have asked how?

My inquiry does not limit itself to a single metric. Choose whatever metric you wish. If you want to use graduation rates, MCAS test scores, SAT scores, or any other yardstick, feel free to do so. Do not, however, obfuscate the issue by asking a question to the Department of Education in which the answer is obvious.

The very basic question I have asked now for two years is a simple question: Why does Southborough pay more per pupil than comparable towns (I’ve suggested Sudbury and Shrewsbury) yet it does not appear that we see an increase in educational performance from our students? If you want to take the growth standard off the list of available yardsticks, or even the entire MCAS results off the list, feel free to do so. Why does Acton spend less $1,790 less per pupil than we do yet have higher graduation rates and SAT scores? Why does Sudbury spend $1,235 less per pupil than we do yet have higher graduation rates and SAT scores? How would a reduction of our town’s per pupil costs to those of Sudbury or Acton impact our students?

You may attack the messenger at your pleasure but do not cloud the underlying issue I have posited to suit your analysis.

30 Jerry C March 11, 2012 at 11:19 AM

John,

I apologize if I misinterpreted the statement that “budget and performance metrics needs to go hand-in-hand”. I do thank-you for making it clear that that it was never your intent to tie the MCAS growth metric to the school budget.

Maybe now the MCAS Growth rate can be used as “another piece of data that educators may use to better understand their students’ performance” (page 3 of the Growth Percentile Interpretive Guide), and will “provoke(s) high-quality conversations about students, programs, schools, curriculum, and the teaching and learning that take place in every classroom across the Commonwealth”.

You asked the question, “Why does Southborough pay more per pupil than comparable towns (I’ve suggested Sudbury and Shrewsbury) yet it does not appear that we see an increase in educational performance from our student’s ? I’ve done some simple analysis and this is what I see:

Using the Compatibility model spreadsheet , I see that Southborough’s average cost per pupil of $13K is about 10% greater than Sudbury’s $11.8K. It also notes that Southborough has 1611 pupils, while Sudbury has 3214. One obvious problem is that the Sudbury system is almost twice the size of Southborough.

There is clearly an economy of scale in play. When looking at cost per pupil, it is very difficult to compare two districts that are so different in terms of their size. We should assume that Sudbury gets more efficient use of their fixed costs (they’re able to spread fixed costs such as buildings and Administration across more students).

Southborough’s teacher salaries, however, are about 10% higher than Sudbury’s and have grown 31% since 2007…while Sudbury’s have grown about 23%.
The high average teacher salary growth rate is a problem that the town of Southborough needs to understand and reduce.

Now let’s look at Shrewsbury. The first problem that we see is that Shrewsbury reports PK – 12, while Southborough report PK -8. It’s kind of difficult to do a comparison when you’re not comparing apples to apples. Shrewsbury has 6132 students compared to Southborough’s 1611. Once again, even if normalize the numbers to get a comparison, there is a huge economy of scale difference.

So… let me try something else. I’m going to go to the District comparison and choose a district in our subgroup that has about the same enrollment (higher) as Southborough and reports PK -8: and that District is Concord. Concord’s per pupil expenditure is 26% greater than Southborough, and the average teacher salary is 15% greater.

Well, maybe Concord is anomaly; so, let’s try Lincoln, which is a smaller system than Southborough. Lincolns per pupil expenditure is 67% greater than Southborough and the average teacher salary is 9% greater.

So where does this leave us? It’s clear that when comparing the expense per pupil to another district that we need to stay as consistent as possible. The grades reported should be the same, and the number of pupils should be about the same. Comparing Southborough to districts with two to four times as many students and a mix in the grades reported does not provide a lot of helpful information.

When you compare against districts such as Concord and Lincoln, we look pretty cost effective. As a matter of fact, we look VERY COST EFFECTIVE.

One final note: If you happen to create another bar graph for District MCAS Growth, would you mind including the Northborough-Southborough district (i.e., Algonquin) so that people can see that Algonquin had the third highest growth rate in Math in its subgroup (i.e., 57%) .

Also note that Lincoln Sudbury had one of the lowest growth scores in ELA of 49%, yet their achievement #’s are outstanding. Go figure…..they’re probably scratching their heads trying to understand that model too.

31 Al Hamilton March 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM

I suspect that the reason that MCAS growth looks good for Algonquin is that aggregate scores for entering students are very low. So moving from the 40th percentile to the 57th represents strong growth.

You may be right about the scale thing. We certainly appear willing to spend money on facilities we might not need anymore (eg Neary) rather than on teaching. The bigger question is why don’t we just find out what Sudbury is doing right in Math and replicate it? Not really rocket science.

32 Jerry C March 11, 2012 at 1:54 PM

John,

I forgot one thing. In response to the question “Why does Acton spend less $1,790 less per pupil than we do yet have higher graduation rates and SAT scores”?

Here’s my response with the information I have:

First; Are you aware that you have been taking data from a subgroup that is mixing PK-6 and PK -8 districts? Acton, Boxford, Mattapoinsett, Middleton, Topsfield and Wrentham are reporting PK – 6, while Concord, Lincoln, Northborough, Southborough and Sudbury are reporting PK – 8.

So Acton is reporting PK – 6. Southborough reports PK – 8. Your note that they spend $1,790 less than Southborough is an incorrect use of the data. We would either have to adjust Southborough down to grade 6, or Acton up to grade 8 to get an accurate comparison. Also, once again, as with Shrewsbury and Sudbury, Acton is a much bigger system that should experience positive economies of scale
.
You state that Acton has a higher graduation rate and SAT scores, and you associate these scores with a $1790 less cost per student. The problem is that the Acton cost per student that you are using is PK – 6, but SAT scores and graduation rates are High School metrics.

If you actually compare Algonquin to Acton/Boxboro, you will see that the cost per pupil is almost the same ($13.6 vs $13.1). The problem is that Acton/ Boxboro reports grades 7 – 12 while Southborough reports 9 – 12.

Finally, to any observer viewing any objective performance and achievement metrics, Algonquin is A+ High School. Their numbers are fabulous, and I don’t need to restate them.

Everyone needs to be careful with this data and report as correctly as possible. Our childrens future is a stake.

33 Annette Flaherty March 11, 2012 at 6:52 PM

Interesting points about making sure that we are comparing apples to apples with respect to comparison data. Certainly the debate about whether MCAS scores properly reflect the quality of the school district has been going on throughout Massachusetts for years.

In terms of MCAS preparation, I wanted to offer an observation as a parent. We have a private math tutor who teaches in Winchester. The children in that school district began completing packets of prior MCAS test questions several months before the students in Southborough. It’s a choice for the school district. It’s fine with me if the schools here want to send home more practice. Teaching to the test certainly can boost test scores but there is certainly a healthy debate about what a good school should emphasize in their curriculum. Perhaps there is room for curriculum improvement and for additional test practice in Southborough.

However it is clear that Dr. Gobron does not want to limit the scope of the curriculum to the parameters of MCAS. Doing test packets is a cheap way to improve test scores but merely teaching to the test is not what a good school will rely on. I can’t speak to curriculum differences with Shrewsbury, Winchester, or anywhere else. There are many other aspects of education an effective school curriculum will bring to students such as oral presentation skills, working as a team, among other things. I do see some of that kind of education occurring in Southborough.

It is not easy to compare school systems, it’s true. Just don’t be too swayed by the numbers until we get a better sense of what’s behind them. Should we drop everything from the curriculum that is not covered on MCAS and only teach kids the subject areas covered by the test? Or only teach standardized test skills? Of course not! Like so many things in life, there is a balance to strike.

34 Jerry C March 12, 2012 at 7:55 PM

Annette,
I agree with your comments about better preparation. I have two kids in the system and one is currently at Neary. Both of my kids had a dip in 4’th grade MCAS scores at that school, and as a parent, I would like the Administration to look at my concerns.

I’ve never seen a big focus on MCAS since I’ve been in Southborough. I think if we focus a little more on MCAS and its metrics, and have the school administration put together programs to improve them, we’ll see dramatic improvement. Our children have a lot of ability….let’s see it reflected in test scores.

I also want to take a minute to thank Mr. Rooney for bringing the issue of MCAS Growth rates to my attention. Before this discussion I had never heard of this metric. Why? Why after 5 years of stagnant growth am I only aware of this issue now? Well maybe that’s my fault…..but I would think the school committee would be hovering over these metrics.

I agree with Al Hamilton and others that we should consider going to 3 schools. It could save a lot of money and could make the Neary problem go away. Wouldn’t it be interesting if test scores went up if we consolidated to three schools! Maybe we’re spread too thin.

I posted some information obtained from Bob Lee, the MCAS Chief Analyst. Please take a moment to read it. He states that growth with achievement should be used to measure a system. They are two separate dimensions. His notes about looking at individual achievement scores are also important.

I believe that every parent needs to look at their children’s achievement scores. If you see a problem, ask for a teacher conference. If you want to see things change in this town, let’s schedule a couple of hundred teacher conferences about growth rates.

Bob also gives us a heads up when he notes “ all districts are expected to work growth into their educator evaluation plans in the next couple years”. Where are we in that process?

So, how is Southborough doing? Bob notes “We would say Southborough is showing moderate growth as a district”. Do we think moderate growth is good enough for Southborough? I don’t think so. If we do we’re cheating our children.

So I’ll close with this statement. This is what I would support. Let’s approve the current budget immediately, and begin working on some of the big issues for the future.

First financial issue is the teacher’s contract. Maybe it’s time to take a stand for fiscal responsibility.

Second issue is # of schools. Closing a school may save money, and may give us better focus and test performance.

First performance issue it to understand what’s happening at Neary. The kids seem to prosper at Woodward, and then….. boom… the low scores. The problem at Neary could be carrying over into Trottier. The school Administration needs to put together some improvement programs.

Second, the school committee needs to ask more questions about achievement and growth. If they don’t, the parents and politicians will, and we’ll be discussing this issue forever.

So ….. we have a good system, but we need to make it better. If we reduce expenses intelligently by reducing the # of schools and bringing down teacher salary growth… we should be OK. If we just hack the budget and increase class size, we’re in trouble.

35 John Butler March 12, 2012 at 2:01 AM

The State has no bias against Southborough. It has 400 districts to report on. When it chooses Student Growth as one of its two top-level statistics for comparison between school districts, it is not doing so because it wants Southborough K8 district to look bad. When it says that differences of 10 points or more are significant, it did not choose that number because Southborough K8 is more than 10 points below the average of the other 10 districts it says we should compare ourselves to, in both English and Math. We must give the most weight to unbiased sources.

One of the purposes of MCAS is to allow us to judge the effectiveness of our schools. It was designed to sometimes create information that is uncomfortable to schools, principals, and superintendents, but that causes communities to take corrective action. MCAS needs have that effect now, here in Southborough. Much to our surprise, perhaps, the MCAS spotlight has fallen on us and our community.

We need to stop making excuses, stop blaming the messenger, focus on and fix the problem. We owe this to our school children and to ourselves. Hundreds of other schools around the State have had to deal with MCAS results problems. We are not alone. We should not try to hide from our problem. We should not try to disguise it, or bury it as unimportant. It has been with us for four years at least and will not go away unless we fix it. We need to stop pretending we don’t have a K8 problem by looking at Algonquin, by congratulating ourselves for other things, or looking anywhere but at the problem itself.

The State presents two top level statistics for comparison of districts: Proficiency and Student Growth. There is no excuse for Southborough K8 schools to have the lowest Growth of the 11 communities that the State says we should compare ourselves to, and the only community consistently below the Statewide average, year after year. We have been below State average on Growth in Math for 4 out of the last 4 years, and 3 out the last 4 in English. No other K8 system, of the 11 that the State says we should compare ourselves to, has such a record on Growth. We should stop making excuses and fix it.

If a young family is looking for a community in which to buy a house, they are going to download this district comparison data from the State and decide Southborough K8 looks bad by comparison with the 10 other similar communities. Lets not deceive ourselves about that. If you have young children and you can potentially afford to buy in this Town, then you know how to get this data online and evaluate it. Anyone can see that it tells you that you have better choices in K8 educational districts today among neighboring communities. Don’t be led astray by anonymous posters here, who want to raise extraneous issues. We must face this problem and stop kidding ourselves.

Some people here want to simultaneously discuss the school budget and the MCAS problem. I understand why, but I think it is not helpful. Budget always needs careful consideration, but for a community of our wealth and income in this State, we are a comparable, but not a particularly high, spender on K8 schools. The problem here and now isn’t budget. The problem is our K8 MCAS growth scores. Focus is key to solving problems, and MCAS is the problem. It needs focus.

The MCAS Growth results for the last four years in K8 English and Math are bad news. The time for making excuses, for trying to hide it, is over. An adult reaction to bad news is to face it and to fix it. That is what we need to do now as a community.

36 Frank Crowell March 12, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Mr Butler,

I very much appreciate all the work you and others have done on Advisory as well as the others who post here. Most of what you write above I agree with – in particular that we all need to deal with this as adults. This is a lesson the BOE could use.



Where a disagree is not linking the performance to the budget. First and foremost is we have been told for years that our high school budgets were needed to maintain a high quality education. Apparently that simply has not been the case. 

About ten years ago, we were also sold a four school configuration that not only cost a lot to implement but cost us a lot to maintain. One of the arguments against a neighborhood school approach is that one school could become much better than the others causing the town to fracture along district lines. Another argument was that all grades would be certain to get the same course curriculum. Not only did this not buy us better performance, but we are stuck in expensive configuration that the BOE does not even take a serious look to contract.



Maybe if the BOE would have been a little more positively responsive instead of being in attack mode or stone walling mode, I would have a different answer. Right now, the only way to hold the whole system accountable is not separating the performance with budget. Doing so only opens the door to higher spending.

37 John Butler March 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Mr. Crowell, I have been immensely frustrated as you are, believe me. I agree with you there have been other issues and other problems, some of which you cite here. Obviously I would not be sympathetic to a view that the way to solve the MCAS problem is to spend more money. That’s wrong.

However, I think that if the MCAS problem can be dismissed as merely the complaints of people who want to cut the budget, then the schools won’t face it and deal with it. As is shown by posts here, people are desperate to dismiss this problem.

To put this into rough quantitative perspective, the schools are 68% of the budget. All of the known budget and management issues probably have not more than an ability to shift 0.5-1.5% of that number, and every dollar can be argued because we are not outside State budget norms. On the other hand we have the State saying that there are two yardsticks to measure K8 schools (Proficiency and Growth) and on one of those we are at the bottom of the communities they say we should compare ourselves to, in both English and Math, and below the State average for the last four years. That is far bigger than a 1.5% issue in my view. It risks besmirching the K8 program. So I say, focus on that.

38 Al Hamilton March 12, 2012 at 12:26 PM

John

I agree, there is a problem and it is not being dealt with. There is however, a link between the budget and the problem.

Our enrollments are declining and I believe that this year we might have been able to operate the system in a 3 school format. However, no serious analysis of a 3 vs 4 school system in light of projected enrollment declines (my numbers agree with the superintendents) has ever been done. Instead, we avoid difficult decisions because the prevailing pattern of behavior is that the tax payers will pay more and more ad infinitum. It has been much easier to endlessly ask for more money than to make critical decisions about our infrastructure or curriculum that would free up funds to produce better results.

I had hoped that Advisory might take up the challenge of doing a serious 3 vs 4 school assessment as there is no hope that it will be done by the School Committee. Regretfully I was disappointed. I for one am willing to take every penny saved and invest it in math education. Teachers teach children not buildings.

39 jerry c March 12, 2012 at 1:04 PM

[Ed. note: I did some light formatting on this comment to make the responses from Mr. Lee a bit easier to spot.]

I just received this response from my MCAS growth questions. Please look it over when you have a chance.

Gerald, Good questions,

My answers are in line below.

Robert Lee
MCAS Chief Analyst
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street
Malden MA 02148-4906
781-338-3583

From:
Sent: Friday, March 09, 2012 8:28 PM
To: Growth Reporting
Subject: MCAS Growth Rate Questions

Dear Department of Education;

I’m a resident in the Town of Southborough and I’m asking for some assistance in understanding 2011 MCAS Growth Rates for the Town of Southborough.

Recently a town selectman presented information derived from the District Analysis and Review Tool (DART) (the link is below) and concluded that “(MCAS Growth data), which has been available for years to our school committee, appears to depict a disconcerting decline in the educational quality of our schools,”. He has painted a dark picture of our school system.

http://www.mysouthborough.com/2012/02/28/southborough-selectman-says-below-average-mcas-growth-a-troubling-trend/

This person has concluded, with this data, that Southborough is in last place within its peer group. His recommendation is to tie the Southborough school budget to the MCAS Growth metric.

My questions are these:

1: How is the MCAS Growth Rate calculated? I’ve done a little research and it appears that it is generated from a model that looks at aggregate scores ,compares them to a peer group, calculates % change, calculates a median, then determines a percentile. Is this correct (or almost correct)? I really would like to understand this better.

Almost correct. The growth percentiles are calculated at the student level and then the median of student growth rates is reported at the group or school level.

2: How important is this metric? Is it as important as MCAS scores, SAT scores or graduation rates?

It depends on what question you are answering.

Growth percentiles answer the question how much did this person change or grow in the past year relative to students who scored similarly on MCAS in the past? Achievement answers the question, how much has this person mastered the subject by the end of a given grade.

Many students are proficient in Grade 5 math on September 1st before their 5th grade teacher has taught a single lesson. If you want to evaluate how much progress a student made in 5th grade the growth score is more relevant than the achievement score.

Colleges are more interested in SAT scores, but someone looking at the effectiveness of the programs in a middle school would be more interested in MCAS growth and achievement.

3: Should anyone ever use this metric as a single metric to determine the performance of a school system?

We advocate using growth along with achievement. There are two dimensions. At the student level I would be more concerned about a low achieving student who had low growth than a high achieving student with low growth. But if my high achieving students are falling a little bit behind other high achieving students, that too has its consequences. Not that they are in danger of failing out or not being able to go to college, but that they are falling behind the other high performing students like them and may struggle to get into the most competitive colleges.

4: Would you ever recommend that a town tie its school budget, or teacher performance, to MCAS Growth rates or MCAS Scores?

We advise that differences of less than 10 SGP points are not likely to be educationally meaningful. We would say Southborough is showing moderate growth as a district.

We would advise using growth strategically as a part of professional development at the school and teacher level. This is where you get tangled up in contractual issues, but all districts are expected to work growth into their educator evaluation plans in the next couple years. Our model for bringing assessment results to the table during the evaluation process will be released this June.

Almost every teacher has students who grew at a high rate and others who grew at a low rate compared to their peers. The most efficacious teachers have more students growing at high rates and reflect hard on why their efforts did or didn’t work as well for the students who grew at low rates.

Effective evaluators, in my experience, use the growth scores to start a conversation about what worked well and then turn the conversation over to talk about opportunities for improvement.

Where are the pockets of high growing students in Southborough? I notice that students with disabilities grew at high rates in 2011 in 6th grade. If there is a pattern there and a valid explanation for the high growth you might want to share and try to build on that success, especially in 7th grade where growth for students with disabilities was relatively low. This is just an example. If you can figure out how to use the data to point to areas of strength and weakness and as a school committee help support that, that’s fine. Much of the analysis should be done by school and district staff who have access to the detailed records, so it may be more practical to ask them to propose solutions based on their analysis of the data.

5: Do the numbers on the report compare 2010 to 2011, or is this an average growth rate for 2007 – 2011? If it’s for 2010 to 2011, where can I see the prior year MCAS Growth?

All of a student’s prior scores are used to make the best estimate of their ELA and Mathematics ability at the end of 2010. That establishes the academic peers group. The percentile is then estimated using a percentile regression model using the statewide dataset.

Prior year’s growth is in the school and district profiles on our website. We first started calculating growth percentiles in 2008.

6: How accurate are the growth rate numbers? I’m asking this because page 3 of the MCAS Student Growth Percentiles Interpretive Guide dated March 2011 notes:

“In interpreting these data, it is important to note that differences in growth scores from year to year less than 10 points should not be considered meaningful or significant”.

Does this mean that district comparisons can be off by as much as 10 points, or is this simply referring to inter-district year to year comparisons?

Your assistance in this matter is very much appreciated.

There is error in every estimate, but the error tends to average out with larger samples.

At the school level, medians tend to fluctuate plus or minus 10 points per year for the typical school with 170 students. That said larger groups are more stable, the Southborough District-wide growth scores have been: 51, 44, 44.5, 42 since 2008 when we started reporting growth in ELA and 42, 48, 43, 46.6 in Mathematics.

We wouldn’t say the growth in the district was low, but they have been pretty consistent. Each year there are more than 1000 growth, scores so these are pretty stable on the low end of the moderate range. I would be neither alarmed, nor sanguine. A level-headed plan to leverage the successful practices and avoid the less successful ones may be appropriate.

Regards,

Bob Lee

40 Resident March 13, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Can I just say WOW! This is very helpful and I am impressed by Mr. Lee’s thoughtful and thorough responses.

After reading this, I am concerned. It looks like we are not doing all we can or all we should, especially since we taxpayers are being led to believe year after year that out school system is so exceptional. Someone has a lot of explaining to do.

41 jerry c March 13, 2012 at 9:49 AM

Resident,

I hope the response from this memo gets the School Administration and School Committee’s attention. I forwarded my copy to Dr. Gabron.

While it’s clear there is no disaster, a gentlemens C- on the Growth Metric should be a causal agent for change. The change, however, isn’t a budget issue, but a program and curriculum issue that only the school administration can effect. What will they do with this information? I’m confident they’ll take a positive approach and we’ll see some action.

It’s also up to the parents to pay attention to their childs achievement and growth. If enough parents do this, these #’s will change, guaranteed! Every parent whose child scores proficient, but low in growth should schedule a teachers conference immediately. Any Needs Improvement issues, regardless of growth, should also require a teachers conference, and an improvement plan.

So now, hopefully, we can move forward, approve the school budget, and begin addressing the issue of teacher salary growth and # of schools for the future.

42 SB Resident March 13, 2012 at 11:07 AM

A point your missing is that many parents including myself could care less about their child’s MCAS scores (maybe thats easy to say since their good). I don’t care what the state thinks my kid should know, I care about how much I, my spouse and my child’s teacher think s/he is growing. School is about preparing kids for college and life, not the MCAS.

43 Resident March 13, 2012 at 12:14 PM

I think many parents are missing the point that there are many residents of this town who do not have children in the school system. We are effectively paying to educate your children. And while I believe whole-heartedly in community and that educating our children benefits ALL of us, I also factor in that a good school system does benefit me by having a positive impact on my property value. If MCAS scores are not up to par, potential home buyers are looking at our MCAS scores and the % of taxes our town levies and taking their business elsewhere. Now this may not be important to you, but it is to many who are financing your child’s education.

We all have a stake in this and MCAS scores DO matter.

44 John Butler March 13, 2012 at 1:38 PM

SB Resident – You are fully entitled to that view for your own child. However, society has a goal of education. It wants to measure whether it is achieving that goal. It want to know whether the institutions it has created are doing what they have been created and funded to do. MCAS is our local means of measuring that. The aggregate performance of our schools, as measured by it, is properly a topic for public concern and discussion.

45 Resident March 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Exactly John. I think you said it better than I. A community school system is bigger than the education of one child or the satisfaction of one set of parents. It is a complex system of investment by the community as a whole. If we are to believe that we all benefit as a community by educating our children, then we all need to be satisfied by the outcome of that investment. The MCAS is a statewide, accepted measure of that outcome. It cannot be marginalized because certain individuals don’t like what it says about our success (or failure).

46 Al Hamilton March 13, 2012 at 5:34 PM

SB Resident.

All the community, not just parents, get a say in how the schools are run. We all have a stake. Aside from the inter-generational desire to do for the next generation what was done for most of us there is the base economic calculation.

Some day I will want/need to sell my home. When I do, I want there to be a long line of young families who want to buy it at a premium price. Why will they want to? Because they believe we have good schools. That is why many of us moved here in the first place. How will these prospective buyers measure us against Sudbury, or Shrewsbury etc? MCAS is a powerful indicator in fact it may be the only available uniform indicator for better and worse.

I for one am prepared to pay a tax premium to support schools that produce demonstrated metrics of high standards. However, while we have the taxes, we do not appear to have the corresponding metrics. So, the schools in a very real sense are breaking the implied deal with the roughly 2/3 of the households in town that do not have children in the school system. That is not, in a very base way, a good formula for continued generous funding.

Make no doubt about it I want the children of this community to receive an education second to none in the world. I am prepared to pay my fair share and in return I will be rewarded by knowing I have done the right thing and I will be rewarded when I sell my home. I regret that after a few years of observation I think our K-8 system is not delivering the goods.

47 Resident March 13, 2012 at 11:09 AM

I think I see this a bit differently. Every year we have been told that we need to approve the school budget or our children will suffer. Seems to me that was a bit of a crock. I am not willing to approve any increase in budgeting until the schools clean up their act. Throwing more money at the schools is just an incentive for them to continue to ignore the problem.

The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The schools should be forced to administer more effectively not continue to spend without limit.

48 jerry c March 13, 2012 at 11:32 AM

SB Resident;

People will continue to use MCAS data in an attempt to reduce the school budget. That’s one of the big problems we’re facing. They’ll also attack with incomplete and inconsistent data. I don’t see this problem going away…. only getting worse.

I would like to get our budget approved.

I’ve also reviewed the MCAS tests (the ones my children have taken) and I ‘ve sat down with my kids and reviewed the questions they answered incorrectly. I thought the questions were reasonable, and I would expect they would be able to answer them at their grade level.

On my daughters 4’th grade Math MCAS, this is what I saw (taken from memory so this might not be exactly right). She got 25 out of 30 questions correct. This put her below proficient (if you can believe it….the NI range was 1 to 26). When I sat down with her and asked her to re-do the 5 she got wrong, she got 3 right…. right then and there with no help. There were two questions she claims she had never seen. I went through her prior years homework worksheets…. and, well, I didn’t see questions like them.

My daughter was Advanced at Woodard…. why did she score so much lower at Neary? The same thing happened to my son….. he went from Advanced in both ELA and Math…. well…. lets just say to an unacceptable number…… why? What’s going on at Neary.

When my daugher went to Trottier, her scores went back up again. I’m hoping my son will do the same when he goes there next year.

49 Frank Crowell March 13, 2012 at 12:11 PM

I could not agree more and would even take it a step further: Administrative salary cuts until the scores get to where they need to be. Renegotiating the teachers contract – you bet.

50 SB Resident March 13, 2012 at 3:27 PM

I agree that it would be nice to measure our education, but I just happen to think it’s impossible to do it in a fair and accurate manner, and a disservice to our children to try to.

I believe in problem solving, conceptual understanding, creative thinking, and team building. All very hard things to test for. If you are catering to a test, there will be less concentration on these core skills. One memory that has stuck with me was from my college electromagnetics course, my only C. It sticks with me not just because of the grade, but because I really did understand the concepts and could apply the concepts to solve interesting problems. I deserved a higher mark in my opinion, but because its hard to test concepts, the exams were very analytic and the math was tricky.

Different people have different strengths. I think its as imporant to build on our strengths as it is to become “well rounded”. Test scores only care about well rounded.

Different teachers have different strengths. I’d rather each teacher do a great job teaching in the way they are great, than being forced to teach specific material in a specific mannor that doesn’t make sense to them just so that we can have a measurement.

Measurement is not even attempted (as far as I know) in the private sector. Is St. Mark’s better than Algonquin?? I assume the people paying big bucks to send their kids there think so, but how do they know? They just do. They see the results themselves. How do we know Harvard is better than UMass?

So, reputations matter. And are generally accurate. Even without measurements the good schools will get good reputations, and the towns will benefit because hey its about our property value not the kids right?

Fortunately Southboroughs reputation is pretty great anyway. Regardless of MCAS most every parent I’ve talked to is very happy with the schools.

51 Jerry C March 13, 2012 at 7:51 PM

SB Resident;

I am very concerned about our childrens future. They are facing a world more competitive than the world we faced when we were young.

In my industry there is a lot of technical outsourcing…….and the people they are outsourcing to are smart… very smart…. Are they smarter than us.? Do they do a better job than us? The answer is no. They are, however, cheaper, and to some people, that’s all that matters.

So what does this mean? It means our kids have to be the smartest in the World. Not the smartest in the school, or the smartest on the street, but best in class…World champions. If we can’t help our children achieve this, they will never see the prosperity we have enjoyed.

I would expect that if the Department of Education were to create a model of cumulative MCAS achievement, with SAT scores and class rank, that we would see a very strong correlation. My guess is that MCAS achievement could be a pretty good predictor of SAT scores.

My daughter, who had problems with her 4’th grade Math MCAS, is doing very well in math today, and taking honors math next year at Algonquin (we’ll see how that goes…. Algonquin is very competitive…. but it’s what she wants). The MCAS is what made us aware of the problem.

52 John Boiardi March 14, 2012 at 7:49 AM

SB Resident

You hit the nail on the head regarding education. One source states that ” the United States is currently ranked 18th among 36 industrialized countries”. If you search the Internet you find many different opinions and statistics regarding the state of education in our country. Basically they say the USA is “average”.

53 Shubu Mukherjee March 14, 2012 at 9:34 AM

Exactly. And, if we don’t “measure” ourselves first, we will never be able to figure out whether and how we can improve.

Yes, we all know that MCAS is not the end all, but MCAS measures the most important of the 8 goals of education agreed upon in the US. And in that only quantitative measurement … well, we are pathetic compared to the rest of the state. Yet the school system refuses to acknowledge we hav a problem.

Like Jerry, MCAS has been helping us decide how to help our children. At least for us, MCAS has been an invaluable tool.

I have fought this battle for almost 4 years now (including an appearance before the school committee a few years back). My conclusion is that nothing is going to change (call me skeptic, yes) in the Southborough school system. So, my wife and I have taken matters into our own hands. As Al Hamilton told me once, “Education is too important to leave in the hand of educators.”

-Shubu

54 Shubu Mukherjee March 14, 2012 at 5:39 PM

On a related note in Forbes:

“Don’t blame Wall Street for our woes: blame the school system.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/03/13/dont-blame-wall-street-for-our-woes-blame-the-school-system/2/

This is just one man’s opinon, but the article claims some interesting facts:

– 85% of jobs are in science and engineering today, yet only 4% of the nation are scientists and engineers, who are effectively creating jobs for the rest of the nation.

– class size has little relevance to school system’s success

– how much money we spend per pupil has little relevance to a school’s success

– 69% of K-12 teachers (across the US) has no formal degree in Mathematics (speaking of which what’s this number in Southborough?).

I know John (Rooney) was looking for some studies along these lines … perhaps he can contact Norm Augustine directly for source of this information.

-Shubu

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