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Boston Public Schools hits record level for student MCAS improvement

Martin Desmarais | 10/2/2013, 10:44 a.m.

The most recent numbers for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test show record levels for African American and Latino Boston Public Schools students — and improvement all throughout the school system.

The 2013 figures showed that Boston students outperformed most schools in the state in the English Language Arts portion of the MCAS. Specifically, students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 topped similar grades in most other school systems.

BPS 10th-grade students continued their recent rise. Over the last six years, 10th-grade students have seen a 21-point jump in ELA proficiency rates, meaning the percent of BPS 10th-graders to score proficient or advanced on the ELA MCAS has risen from 58 percent in 2008 to an all-time high of 79 percent today. According to school department officials, ELA proficiency rates for African American and Latino 10th-grade students are at their highest levels since the MCAS test was implemented in 1998. The newest data shows that BPS has decreased the more-than-30-point achievement gap that existed in 2007 by about two-thirds, to just over 10 points.

On the mathematics portion of the testing Boston third-graders jumped eight points in the number reaching proficient or advanced levels on the MCAS.

The high school improvement was led by English High School in Jamaica Plain and the Burke High School in Dorchester. At English, student proficiency rates for the ELA test jumped to 60 percent from 39 percent in 2012. For African American students, the rate jumped to 81 percent this year, up from 38 percent one year ago. At the Burke, the ELA proficiency rate rose 20 points, to 71 percent from 51 percent last year. Growth for Latino students was very strong at the school, up from 63 percent in 2012 to 89 percent in 2013.

Burke Principle Lindsa McIntyre said that while all at the school have been working very hard to improve the Burke’s performance, the strong MCAS numbers are really a reflection of the students’ efforts. “They are very focused on being the best they can be academically,” McIntyre said. “We celebrate their successes.”

In addition to the rise in proficiency rates from last year, the Burke has seen a 41 percent jump in ELA proficiency rates since 2008.

McIntyre emphasized that getting the teachers and the students on the same page and working together to improve academic performance has been a crucial factor to her school’s success so far. She said teachers and administrators have taken a hard look at how they work with students and made detailed effort to address students’ needs better, including choosing teachers that work well with the students they are teaching.

“Here at the Burke one of our biggest challenges was building a culture and a climate that really embraced the students that we served,” McIntyre said. “We wanted a better understanding of who our students are and what kind of support they needed.”

At Burke High School, which has a 75 percent African American and 20 percent Latino population, this support even incorporated the cultural environment in the classroom. “We do have an extremely large population of African Americans and Latino students,” McIntyre said. “We think in terms of what is culturally relevant and what is culturally meaningful and what curriculum will engage them in ways that will allow them to grab on.”