hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

September 27, 2012

Schools chief angry about MCAS scores

Scully critical of results at Consentino, Whittier

By Alex Lippa

---- — Following the release of the latest MCAS scores, Superintendent James Scully insisted several schools in the district need to improve considerably.

Scully said test scores at the Consentino and Whittier middle schools were “unsatisfactory” and that the math program at Haverhill High School needs to be overhauled.

“Both schools somehow lost focus of what their focus should have been,” Scully said of Consentino and Whittier. “Both schools, from the principal on down to the rest of the staff, need to take a hard look of what’s going on there.”

The two middle schools suffered significant declines compared to their numbers in 2011. Scully said both schools’ teaching methods will be examined. He pointed to the Nettle, Golden Hill and Pentucket Lake schools as ones that have been able to improve their scores following disappointing results in previous years.

“They had a handle on each and every student that was failing,” Scully said. “If you don’t know what the children are doing each and every day, that’s where they’re failing. It has to start with the administration. Our job is to provide tools for people to do it (improve MCAS scores) and we’ve done it and there is no excuse today for failure.’’

The state released MCAS scores last week. State law requires that public school students pass the test to graduate from high school.

Scully also was disappointed with the MCAS math results at Haverhill High. Ninety-seven percent of the school’s grade 10 students passed the MCAS math section in 2011, compared to 94 percent this year. He said the entire math program at Haverhill High needs a careful review.

“Too many students are not showing the success that they are very capable of,” he said.

Scully pointed to a lack of continuity between curriculum at different schools. He said the math programs in kindergarten-through-grade-five schools have been revamped so that students have the same text books. He said he would like to see the rest of the district follow suit.

“It has been a major concern ... and now we are trying to rectify it,” Scully said. “It will take a few years to make it happen.”

Scully noted that the system has focused on what he calls target instruction, which provides extra help to children who are failing. Schools have added tutoring before and after school, but money for that is not coming out of the school budget.

“All of these tutoring programs are not out of city dollars,” Scully said. “We don’t have money in the budget for that. We are seeking grants.

“We are not given financial resources that other communities have had,’’ he said. “We have done it all on our own (through) grants.”

While the negatives of the MCAS results did stand out for Scully, there were also some positives he highlighted. Districtwide, there were more improvements than declines and minority test scores, which have been a focus in recent years, also improved.

“We are continuing to improve in areas,’’ he said. “You can see the increase in English (scores). We were way behind and we have completely reversed that. The same goes for special education and for the Hispanic population. These subgroups have been our challenge.”