Haverhill MCAS results show student growth despite missing performance benchmarks
The bright spots in Haverhill MCAS results this year are in middle school student growth percentiles (SGPs), which measure year–to-year improvement in individual students. While overall Haverhill MCAS scores are below what one might expect for a city with its demographics and resources, student improvements as measured by SGPs in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math were reported to be better than in some benchmark cities: (1) other Gateway cities and (2) a group of 10 comparable cities selected by DESE. Some Haverhill SGP measures, including ELA and Math for economically disadvantaged students, were near or above those of similar-income Gateway cities.
Here are some 2017 results for Haverhill from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The goal is to provide an overview of how Haverhill measures up against comparable Massachusetts cities. More detailed and comprehensive results are available on the DESE website.
Beginning in 2017 MCAS changed to “Next Generation” tests for grades 3 to 8 in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. The earlier MCAS “legacy” tests continues for 2017 for science in grade 5 and for English, math and science for grade 10. The change in testing precludes comparisons of 2017 Next Generation results with previous years and examination of trends over time. Nonetheless, we can make valid comparisons for 2017 among schools, grades, and cities. As there is no one perfect benchmark city identical to Haverhill, on this site we use multiple benchmarks, defined elsewhere on this website (see definitions of comparison city groups). As discussed there, we might reasonably expect Haverhill, which is in the upper third of the Gateway Cities by median household income, to have school performance measures above the average of Gateway cities and near the similar income Gateway cities, but below the state average — somewhere in the middle of our multiple groups of benchmark cities.
Overall Haverhill MCAS results are below the state average and below those of similar-income Gateway Cities, but similar to the average of all Gateway Cities.
Haverhill is the lowest performing of 7 similar-income Gateway cities – similar to Salem, though Salem results exclude its higher performing Salem Academy charter.
For not-economically disadvantaged students, Haverhill ELA results are in the middle of the benchmark groups, somewhat above the Gateway cities and the DESE comparable cities and somewhat below the state average and the similar-income Gateway cities. Math results for the not-economically disadvantaged students are comparable to the average of Gateway cities but below the other benchmarks. For economically disadvantaged students in both ELA and Math, Haverhill falls below the average of all the benchmark city groups.
Looking across grades 3 to grade 10, combining Legacy and Next Generation results (as a percent of state average), Haverhill shows somewhat higher performance at upper grades. Grade 4 stands out from other lower grades as reporting higher scores (as a percentage of the state average) for ELA.
Looking at individual school results by grade, we see particularly strong results at or near the state average for Bradford Elementary grades 3 and 4, Consentino grade 4, and Whittier grade 8. Similarly in Math a few grades stand out as at or above the state average: Bradford Elementary grades 3 and 4, Consentino grade 4, and Hunking grade 8. A general upward trend by grade may be discerned for Whittier and Hunking, while results in Consentino vary greatly among adjacent grades, with grade 4 reporting much higher results than adjacent grades in both ELA and Math.
Student Growth Percentiles
The MCAS student growth percentile measures each student’s improvement relative to other students with similar scores in prior years. The median of these percentile scores for a school or district provides a measure of the “value added” to student performance. DESE considers median SGP scores in the 40 to 60 range as normal, with high or low performers outside this range.
Haverhill SGPs were in the normal range for both ELA and Math for both economically disadvantaged and not-economically disadvantaged students. Moreover, as measured by SGPs, the median Haverhill student increased test performance by more than the median student in other Gateway cities and the DESE-comparable cities. For economically disadvantaged students, Haverhill SGPs for both ELA and math even exceeded those of the similar-income Gateway Cities, arguably the best benchmark for Haverhill.
Some grades in middle schools reported median student growth percentiles above the expected range of the 40 to 60 percentile – for ELA this occurred in grades 4, 6, and 8 at Consentino, grades 6 and 7 at Nettle, and grades 7 and 8 at Whittier; for Math this occurred in grades 4, 6, and 8 at Consentino, grades 6 and 7 at Nettle and grade 7 at Whittier. In contrast, at Tilton, Golden Hill and Bradford elementary schools, and Hunking middle school, SGP scores were bordering or below the lower bound of the normal range in ELA and for some grades in math. The Hunking grade 6 results in ELA are a clear outlier. They indicate that more than half of the Hunking grade 6 students improved less than 80 percent of similar students statewide.
For Grade 10 Legacy MCAS, Haverhill performed somewhat better than the Gateway City average but below the similar income Gateway Cities.
While Haverhill MCAS performance results relative to benchmarks are generally below what would be expected and do not reach levels of the similar-income Gateway cities, Haverhill student improvement (as measured by SGPs) in some schools and grades, especially in middle schools, improves more relative to benchmark cities. We see patterns of consistent improvement across grades at Nettle and Whittier and irregular indicators of improvement at Consentino. In 2017, grade 10 performance was at or above that of the Gateway and DESE comparable cities though still below the similar-income Gateway cities.
Need for closer examination.
These results raise questions worthy of further examination by school officials and administrators. First, it will be important to look closely at the outliers. With these it is important to determine rule out any cause related to data, reporting, or student selection; then to truly understand the reasons for variation between schools and grades. In the student growth SGPs, positive outliers in Consentino and a negative outlier in grade 6 at Hunking deserve a close look. Considering the irregular results at Consentino, why do some grades report outstanding results but other adjacent grades do not? Results may suggest excellent teaching in grades 4, 6, and 8. School administrators and officials should identify and report the source of these good results. Why do students in Haverhill middle schools seem to show greater improvement than those in the elementary and high schools? Did student growth in ELA stall in 6th grade at Hunking in 2017, or was there some problem with administration of the exam? Understanding the reasons for the outliers and variations may help the school prevent any such problem in 2018.
Plan for action.
Haverhill can learn much from this year’s MCAS results. This information provides a means to identify opportunities for improvement in teaching, curriculum, support services, professional development. Outstanding student growth results in some middle school grades may provide models for replication and improvement in other grades and schools. Close examination of these results may suggest how Haverhill could make improvements district wide.
We can expect Haverhill MCAS results to always be mixed, showing strengths and weakness. While Haverhill, like many Gateway Cities, may lag behind higher-income communities in performance measures, it could strive to make strong student growth across all grades a defining characteristic of the district. If this can be accomplished, we might someday see Haverhill stand out among Gateway Cities as a place where all students are well supported to advance and achieve their potential. As a first step, school officials and the school administration will need to look into the reasons behind outliers and use the comparative information available to replicate the best practices observed in Haverhill schools and other cities.