School Committee Concerned About Watertown’s MCAS Scores

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Fewer than half of Watertown elementary school students scored in “meet expectations” or higher on the state’s standardized test in 2017, and in many cases scores in the Watertown Public Schools lagged behind the state average. The results concerned members of the School Committee, who heard a presentation on the scores on Monday night.

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Assessment Theresa McGuinness noted that elementary school students took the “next generation” MCAS last spring. The year before they took the PARCC Test and before that they took the original MCAS. Watertown’s results followed a similar trend as the state average.

“Most students who took the next generation MCAS did not perform at the level they did on the PARCC,” McGuinness said. “Only 50 percent in Massachusetts are meeting expectations. As the state went, so did Watertown, but Watertown took a larger dip.”


On Monday, principals and district curriculum coordinators outlined how they are looking for new teaching strategies and ways to analyze the results to improve scores on the next test.

Members of the School Committee said they are not satisfied with the 2017 results. While he said the MCAS does not measure many things that students learn or experience in the Watertown schools, the scores are still concerning, said Mark Sideris, the Town Council President who also sits in the School Committee.

“The scores tonight are pretty bad, to be brutally honest,” Sideris said. “None of us are happy about it.”

School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley said that she and her family have had a great experience at the Hosmer School, but the test results bother her, especially for one grade.

“It is upsetting,” Foley said. “And across the board the third grade numbers are really low.”

School Committee Chair John Portz said that people should not read too much into one set of results.

“I caution putting too much emphasis on one test,” Portz said.

He aded that in 2014, the last time the test was the same as the previous year, all three elementary schools had a majority of students in Advanced or Proficient (now Meeting Expectation or Exceeding Expectations) and were ahead of the state.

New Strategies

Superintendent Dede Galdston said the district is changing the way it assesses students, and she wants to make sure shortcomings are found well before the MCAS tests come out.

“We will not depend on outside measures and look at what we do from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” Galdston said.

One major change Galdston said she would like to make is to move Watertown students to a standards-based report card which gives a number, not a grade, indicating a student’s progress toward a particular standard. The new report card could start next fall, Galdston said.

Sideris said he hopes the district can adjust to the new test more quickly than it did in previous instances when the tests changed.

“Every time they press reset (on a new test) it takes 2 or 3 years for us to catch up and then it changes again,” Sideris said.

The School Committee heard from the curriculum coordinators on Monday night.

Allison Donovan, the K-8 Literacy Coordinator, said that she is working with teachers at all grade levels to improve how students fare on the MCAS, not just teachers for grades that take the test. She showed the teachers in lower grades what third graders had to be able to do to be successful on the English Language Arts (ELA) test.

“It was a real shock for the K-3 teachers to see what was expected for students in fourth and fifth grade (on the MCAS),” Donovan said. “They are already adjusting.”

Elizabeth Kaplan, the K-5 Math and Science Coordinator, said teachers are making sure that the lessons cover what is on the test. This is not always the case with the current texts used by the district, Math in Focus. For instance, Kaplan said, fractions are not covered in the right way. Also, the curriculum only spends one day on rounding numbers so teachers will spend extra time on that.

Both coordinators came up with action steps to help students be better prepared this year for the MCAS.

In literacy, all students will have take the same assessments through the year, there will be a focus on phonics instruction in first and second grade and there will be interventions for students struggling on reading. Also, teachers will receive professional development on teaching reading and writing, and the district is piloting lab classrooms where teachers they can observe best instruction practices by watching their colleagues.

In math, benchmark assessments will be implemented, additional professional development will be provided and the district has hired a math coach. Also, students will be able to improve math skills with an online program called TenMarks

McGuinness said the district will also start using ATLAS, a curriculum management tool that will allow teachers to access the curriculum in one place, no matter what grade or school they are in.

The district will also create Professional Learning Teams to help teachers which are “engaged in a cycle of inquiry focused on student learning.”

See the entire 2017 Watertown Elementary MCAS Results presentation document here.

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