The Grade 5 MCAS winners and losers

Wellfleet Elementary soars on Grade 5 MCAS

Brewster, P-town rank well; DY, Mashpee disappoint

By Walter Brooks

Wellfleet had zero failures across the board.Wellfleet Elementary School stood out among Cape Cod elementary schools when 2012 MCAS scores were published by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  Not a single Wellfleet child failed any of the three MCAS skill areas.  94% of Wellfleet kids scored Advanced or Proficient in English Language Arts (ELA), 88% in Mathematics and 94% in Science/Technology/Engineering (STE).

The Winners

While Wellfleet was the only district with zero failures across the board, Provincetown had zero failures in ELA and STE.  Provincetown stumbled a bit in Math, with a 10% failure rate and 40% ranked as Needs Improvement.  Provincetown was the only elementary district to have 100% of its students score advanced or proficient in English Language Arts.  Wellfleet and Provincetown led the Cape in ELA advanced scores with 35% and 30%, respectively, achieving that high score.

Brewster tied Wellfleet with 53% advanced in Science/Tech/Engineering but suffered in ELA where a 17% advanced rate, 60% proficient ratio skewed their scores downward a bit.

DY and Mashpee

Dennis-Yarmouth hit bottom in ELA MCAS scores.Dennis-Yarmouth hit bottom in ELA with only 10% of its fifth graders achieving advanced status and a whopping 51% ranked as needs improvement or failing.  In Math 55% of DY’s students scored in the two lower rankings and DY’s 22% failing was the most embarrassing score on the Cape. In Science/Tech/Engineering a shocking 64% of DY fifth graders ranked needs improvement or failed.

Reflecting what many see as a K-12 systemic failure, Mashpee’s fifth graders showed 48% NI/failed in ELA, 50% in Math and 55% in STE.  Mashpee’s MCAS scores were low at the middle and high school levels, as well, suggesting the district may need a top-to-bottom makeover in both its faculty and administration.

Cost Versus Results in Orleans

Brewster delivers at a far lower cost per student.With its now-infamous cost-per-student of $23,446.19, Orleans Elementary had some great expectations to fulfill.  It didn’t.

Orleans Elementary led the Cape in advanced/proficient in Science/Tech/Engineering but was decidedly middle-of-the-pack in ELA and Math.  Indeed, OES ranked third in the four Nauset region towns in Advanced/Proficient status on ELA and fourth Cape-wide.  OES was third in the Nauset region for Math (#7 on the Cape) and second in the region and on the Cape for STE.  While Orleans certainly doesn’t face the academic disgrace that other districts do, Brewster seems to be delivering a good or better education to their students for almost $7,500 per student less per year.

Calls to Action

Only such radical measures are likely to turn around a school district as challenged as Mashpee.The two obvious calls to action, strictly on academics, evidenced by the Cape’s 2012 MCAS scores are in Dennis-Yarmouth and Mashpee.  DY’s scores seem to indicate a systemic problem in the elementary grades that can only amplify itself as the children move on to middle and high school. 

A child who leaves elementary school without basic “number sense skills” cannot succeed in higher math without possessing those basic, foundational skills.  Similarly, DY’s 51% of kids who scored low on ELA will face growing challenges with studying literature and the escalating need to write well as they advance into middle school. 

Mashpee faces a serious challenge at every level of education.  The anticipated departure of Mashpee’s superintendent this spring gives the school board a chance to re-invent their district.  If ever there was a district that needs an extremely strong curriculum leader with a “take no prisoners” approach to teaching, it is the Mashpee Public Schools.  Only a top to bottom reorganization of MPS is likely to turn around their disappointing performance. 

Taxpayers should expect a costly, multi-year program to bring student achieve up to acceptable levels.  The new team must first assess and repair the damage already done to existing students and then put systems in place to provide a more effective education to the younger students coming along. 

Many school districts, faced with a dilemma like Mashpee, would hire a “turnaround specialist” superintendent on a three-year, no-fire contract. They would hand that superintendent a chainsaw and hatchet with instructions to keep cutting until they healthy wood is found - and to then re-build the district on that foundation.  Only such radical measures are likely to turn around a school district as challenged as Mashpee in an acceptable time-span.

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