The November meeting, held Monday night in the Channel 22 studio, was informative, but too short. It was nice to have more of an informal discussion rather than a powerpoint presentation, but almost half of the time was spent discussing safety issues, much of which has been covered at the ongoing Safety Summits. Well, hopefully this information will now get out to more people. We did get quite a few phone calls and emails; in fact, one person emailed about election day safety in the schools, a topic that was not covered at the safety summits. Having been at different schools on election day, I can attest to the fact that in many instances a stranger could stroll into the school, take a wrong turn and roam the hallways at will. Apparently, Tewksbury has taken the step of moving the voting locations out of the schools. Dr. Baehr did say that there is a new rule that the police officers present are there to keep an eye on the schools as well as the ballot box and that the school department will work with the election office to develop a safety plan for election days.
Another positive development from the focus on safety is that schools will take steps to clarify their discipline policies so that if your child is the victim of a bullying incident, for example, then you will know what the typical response is at that school. This reassures parents that a situation will be handled without violating the privacy of the perpetrator. If parents feel that their school has an inadequate response system or that the principal is not responding to their concerns, they should absolutely call Dr. Baehr or Ann Murphy, who is the Interim Assistant Superintendent for Student Services.
While discussing MCAS scores, Dr. Baehr made several points. In Massachusetts, a passing score on MCAS is 220, but a proficient score is 240. The State has ratcheted up the MCAS passing requirement, so that a 220 is now only a 'provisional' passing grade. Any student who receives between 220 and 238 must take and pass certain required courses, depending on their weaknesses. Then there are the added complications from the Feds through No Child Left Behind. Under this law, all (ALL) students must be proficient by 2014; this is measured yearly by checking a school's adequate yearly progress (AYP). Since the school's MCAS performance must increase by a set amount each year, the target keeps getting harder to hit. (MCAS by the way is in the top three hardest standardized state tests in the country). The new rules around English Language Learners (ELLs) dictate that any child in the system for 10 months has to take the MCAS in English; given that Lowell has the largest population of ELL students in the State (1 in 4 Lowell students is an ELL), one can see why our MCAS scores in English Language Arts are fairly flat. The fact is that they have been flat across the state for the last few years. In Math, our results also roughly parallel the state in Gr. 4 and 8. The good news is of course the 10th grade overall MCAS results have made Lowell one of only 3 Urban school districts to have more than 50% of their Sophomores pass MCAS.
Well, I've gone on and on about MCAS, but I think it's important information that doesn't get out there enough, especially when the scores are used as a weapon against the schools more often than not. I'll take up the math question and other stuff tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!