GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 2, 2012

School gains show in Essex

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Students at Essex Elementary school are exceeding most of their goals.

That’s the assessment drawn from a deeper look at this year’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which, in ranking schools on a 1 through 5 scale — with 1 on the top level and 5 as the poorest performing — places Essex Elementary at No. 2, showing that the school’s improvements are well above average state results.

In addition, students only declined in one area over the past year. That was in mathematics, where 91 percent of students met proficiency standards in 2011, and the goal for 2012 was 91.8 percent. However, only 87.4 percent of students past or exceeded the proficiency rating this year.

The MCAS results, however, showed that the school exceeded the science goal for 2012. More than 92 percent of students made the standard, while the goal called only for increasing the 2011 number of students at proficient or better from 85.2 percent, to 86.7 percent.

Essex Elementary also did well compared to other schools in the state. Statewide results show 61 percent of third and fifth graders, 57 percent of fourth graders were marked as proficient or above in language arts. In Essex, more than 80 percent of third graders, 58 percent of fourth graders and nearly 90 percent of fifth graders scored proficient or advanced. And in all grades, students fared well above state averages in both mathematics and science as well.

The Essex students are not alone, even within their own Manchester Essex School District. Manchester and Essex students, as the Times reported in September, posted proficiency percentages at least 20 points above state averages in each category, including a science rate almost 30 points higher than the average state proficiency rate. Across the four schools at all levels — Memorial and Essex elementary, and Manchester Essex middle and high school — 89 percent of students proved themselves proficient in English Language Arts, 82 percent of students tested at proficient levels for mathematics and 82 percent also scored proficient in the field of science and technology.

But while Manchester’s Memorial Elementary has traditionally scored higher – and did again this year, with an average 13 percent Manchester students scoring higher than those in Essex —the strategic plan for Essex Elementary calls for the MCAS results and other performance data to be used to alter the curriculum from year to year. And the Essex gains and goal figures show the improvements, with a variety of enhanced programs‚ including a project with local singer/songwriter Daisy Nell, who has been working with the school’s music program.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve our scores on state and national exams,” said Manchester Essex Superintendent of Schools Pamela Beaudoin. “Overall, our district performs strongly and we have been successful at identifying areas for growth and making improvements.”

The goals for the No Child Left Behind Act have also changed this year, with Massachusetts and dozens of other states issued waivers allowing them to form local plans for education reform.

J.C. Considine, director of media relations for the state Department of Education, said the move was simply a practical one from an educational standpoint.

“With the old system, every student had to meet educational standards by November of 2014,” he said. “That goal was unrealistic and unobtainable.”

The new goal, he said, was to reduce the amount of students not meeting proficeny standards by half, with a deadline of 2017.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.