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Driscoll sees good news in MCAS scores

Lt. Gov. Jane Swift met with Beacon Hill bigwigs yesterday morning at the State House to discuss the recently released Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System scores. And the news, officials said, is good.

Low MCAS scores tend to overshadow all other news in public schools, said Education Commissioner David Driscoll.

This year’s results showed an 8 percent decrease in failure on the math section. About 9 percent of students passed the advanced math section, he said.

Despite this 17 percent upswing, more than 25,000 students failed part of the test. The majority of the failures, or about 24,637 students, failed the math section.

“There are remarkably wonderful things going on in Massachusetts schools,” Driscoll told a legislative panel.

For example, Massachusetts leads the nation in after-school and summer programs, said William Guenther, president of Mass Insight Education.

According to the organization, the after-school and summer programs feature smaller class sizes. The programs train teachers to deal with new situations and keep parents involved in the students’ progress.

“We have not been able to scale up these successful efforts. These efforts, if done well, are elaboratory,” Guenther said.

He said the state must focus on what is working for some schools and implement it in the rest.

Hoping for further success, the Mass Insight Education created an initiative called Building Blocks. According to the group’s literature, the goal of the program is to use the best “practices to help students reach higher standards.”

The organization plans to combine its initiative with the Department of Education’s Exemplary Schools program, which identifies schools that have exceeded their goals for improvement or performed well on the MCAS. Mass Insight takes the idea a step farther and shares its findings with schools across the state.

“High stakes testing is leading to improvement,” said Rep. Lida Harkins (D-Norfolk).

Sen. Robert Antonioni (D-Middlesex) agreed, citing the state’s adult illiteracy rate, which hovers between 18 and 25 percent depending on the survey. The problem can be reduced by the high MCAS standards, he said.

Swift said state officials need not only to say they are willing to help all children, but to demonstrate it.

“There is no doubt we have a moral and social obligation,” to help students improve, Swift told the panel.

The Center for Applied Child Development at Tufts University is giving the grade 10 mathematics exam to anyone interested on Dec. 2 in an attempt to show citizens exactly what the test entails.

“We are definitely headed in the right direction,” said Senate President Thomas Birmingham. “Obviously we have miles to go before we sleep, but we are headed in the right direction.”

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