Concern rises as HyWest’s MCAS scores slip

HyWest Principal Kathi Amato provides a very complete and thoughtful reply to our questions about the school's MCAS scores

Lowest reading scores since 2011, math drops 14 points

90.6% of HyWest’s students were considered “high needs” and 83.9% were low income

Hyannis West Elementary School is a K-3 school that holds most of Barnstable’s high need, low income and English language learner population. In Fiscal 2014 90.6% of HyWest’s students were considered “high needs” and 83.9% were low income, according to information obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE).

Hyannis West’s reading MCAS scores fell from 52% advanced/proficient on the spring 2013 test but only 49% of students tested advanced/proficient this year. With 52% of its students needing improvement or outright failing the test, concern for the children of HyWest grows.

In a study published in 2010 by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, the author cites a study that found “74 percent of third graders who read poorly are still struggling in ninth grade”.

HyWest’s math scores dropped from 75% advanced/proficient in 2013 to only 61% advanced/proficient in 2014.

Other Barnstable schools

Centerville Elementary School led Barnstable in this year’s third grade MCAS with 83% testing advanced/proficient in reading and 87% in mathematics. West Villages Elementary had 68% of its third graders test advanced/proficient in reading and 75% in math. Barnstable-West Barnstable Elementary had only 55% advanced/proficient in reading and 71% in math.

Barnstable-West Barnstable’s drop in reading was the greatest in the district, from 64% to 55%. Centerville Elementary’s math scores grew from 69% advanced/proficient in 2013 to 87% in 2014.

What about HyWest?

We approached Barnstable Superintendent Dr. Mary Czajkowski to hear what the district had to say about the low MCAS scores at Hyannis West. She directed our inquiry to HyWest Principal Kathi Amato.

Principal Amato provided a very complete, thoughtful reply to our queries. Principal Amato’s excellent response is best presented as she submitted it to Cape Cod Today.

Statement of HyWest principal

Thank you for your continued support and concern for Hyannis West Elementary School. While at first glance the recent release of this year’s MCAS scores may seem that Hy West is declining or has “problems”, I can assure you that is not the case.

MCAS scores are only one measure of accountability for our students; unfortunately it is the one that is focused upon in the eyes of the public. It is also a shame that the scores do not reflect the amazing work that is going on at our school by our dedicated staff nor the growth that our students are demonstrating every day. There is much more to the story that many will never know.

The easy answers would be:

  • 6 third grade students participated in Reading and Math Alternative MCAS Assessments last year which automatically gives them a “Warning”. That constitutes a 9% increase in the Warning category this year for both subjects.
  • 4 students were new to the country in September and still participated in the Math MCAS.
  • 31% of the 3rd grade were Level 3/Developing ELL students meaning they, “Know and use social English and some specific academic language with visual and graphic support.” They are not allowed use of visual or graphic support on MCAS.
  • 38% of the 3rd grade were Level 4/Bridging ELL students meaning they, “Know and use social English and some technical academic language.” You can imagine the amount of technical academic language that is included in the MCAS assessments.

As I’ve said in the past Hyannis West has never “blamed” the demographics of our school for the MCAS results and we won’t start now, but the facts above are the reality. You asked if the test was to blame. That is a larger question.

What I can tell you is that of the 3rd grade class, 80%of the students made realistic to ambitious growth in Reading fluency according to the Aimsweb Oral Reading Fluency Benchmark Assessment during the 2013-14 school year. Also last year 72% of 3rd grade ELL students moved up one Proficiency Level according to ACCESS English Language Proficiency Test. This is no easy task! All Hy West students are closely monitored by classroom teachers and interventionists throughout the year and academic supports are provided quickly to our most at-risk students. Data is analyzed regularly and interventions are adjusted over brief periods of time so that needs are met in an efficient manner. We focus our success on the progress children make from where they are at the beginning to where they are when they leave each grade. When we look at that we are anything but declining.

Scores will continue to increase and decrease over time (and they have fluctuated since 2011) because every group of children is unique each year. There is also not one formula that is going to “fix the problem”. I do know that if Hyannis West continues to be compared to other elementary schools within the district we will appear to be failing to the outside world. However, when we compare apples to apples, that is schools in Massachusetts with similar demographics, Hyannis West is in the top 2 each year which is something of which we are extremely proud. (See the DART data from the DESE website below)

Comparable schools overview

*Schools most similar to your school in terms of grades span, total enrollment and special populations.

Orange-shaded row: Your School; Blue-shaded row: Highest performing of the other 10 schools. (2014 highest performing data will be available soon )

What I would like you to know is that with the continued support of Dr. Czajkowski, Barnstable’s Superintendent of Schools, and the School Committee, Hyannis West continues to receive the resources and support needed. This year funding was provided to hire an additional ELD (English Language Department) teacher. At this time we have 4 ELD teachers that are providing both push-in and pull-out instruction to our 126 ELL students (out of 356). We have also added a part-time Literacy Coach who supports both students and teachers in utilizing the most current, research-based instructional practices in the area of Literacy. District Title I funds were used for a 2-day summer writing workshop in which 30 Hy West staff attended. The district has also embarked on a 2 year partnership with MTSS (Massachusetts Tiered System of Support) in which the entire district will analyze the effectiveness of our current practices and make the adjustments necessary to continue to give all students the academic and behavioral supports they need to be successful.

In the last 3 years that I have been the principal of Hyannis West I have witnessed improvements in public perception, student attendance, student behavior, staff morale, academic achievement, facilities, and parent involvement. That feels like success to us.

“After HyWest”?

After reading Principal Amato’s statement we wondered what happens with students when they leave Hyannis West. What safety net does Barnstable hold under these high need students as they enter the “melting pot” at Barnstable United Elementary and later Barnstable Intermediate? At what point do Hyannis West alumni start to perform on par with alumni from other Barnstable elementary schools?

Superintendent Czajkowski offered to field this question. The next story in this series will publish Dr. Czajkowski’s statement verbatim.


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