Watertown Schools Have Plan to Improve the Few Lower MCAS Scores

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Watertown’s students performed better or the same as the state average on the most recent MCAS test, except for in middle school science. The district has already started rolling out ways to improve those results.

Watertown students fared better than the state average on the 10th grade MCAS math test with 82 percent compared to 78 percent for the state in the Proficient or Advanced categories, which are passing scores. The 10th graders were just below the state average on the MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) with 90 percent passing, compared to 91 for the state.

In fifth grade math, Watertown was above the state on the MCAS, with 52 percent passing compared to 51 percent for the state.

The low spot on the MCAS was in eighth grade science, where 25 percent had passing scores in Watertown, compared to 42 percent in the state.

In past years there were more MCAS tests, but Massachusetts is in the process of moving to the PARCC tests, and those scores have not yet been sent to districts, said Barbara Gortych, the district coordinator of assessment, guidance and behavioral health.

Watertown Middle School Principal Kimo Carter said the school and particularly the science department has started closely examining the scores and look for ways to boost scores in the future.

“When a school receives low test scores, the knee jerk reaction is to point the finger at the teachers,” Carter said. “We have outstanding science teachers at the Middle School. They know they have to change the curriculum and the teaching strategies.”

They looked at each individual student, and which problems students did well on and on which they struggled. They did well on science measurement and inquiry, but struggled on science terms, when they had to read extended passages and answer questions and on earth science.

This is not the first time the eighth grade scored below the state, but the next year, the same group of students scored significantly better than the state average on the ninth grade science MCAS test.

One reason for this might be that the middle school test covers three years of science, while the ninth grade test focuses just on physics – a class they take that year, Gortych said.

The middle school currently teaches earth science in sixth grade, life science in seventh grade and physical science in eighth grade. Carter said the classes will be “spiraled” so students get some of each of the three sciences each year of middle school.

Carter said he is confident that Watertown Middle School is teaching students science, which shows in the high school scores.

“I know we have wonderful ninth grade science teachers but that is not the only answer,” Carter said. “We are doing something at the middle school to prepare them to do so well in science. When they take physics they are able to learn physics.”

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