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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Standardized Tests - Where is MHS in the Mix?

At last week's School Committee meeting we had a spirited discussion around standardized testing at the high school level, most notably the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. Results are in last week's packet: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1245 (under 5.A.1.a.). 

It was agreed that SAT scores are not where we want them, and Mayor Dolan pledged to financially support a summer prep class for the SAT through the Rec. Department. In addition, teachers are working SAT questions into their courses so students will have more practice throughout the year in preparation for the test. The ACT's, which differ from SAT's in that the ACT is content-based while the SAT is reasoning-based, are taken less frequently but most schools will accept either and some students naturally perform better on one than the other. The Guidance Dept. recommends that students take both and determine which works best for them, then consider using that score for college applications. Our ACT scores have been relatively static.

MHS offers a variety of AP classes as well as individual Virtual High School opportunities (for students who may uniquely find a topic appealing or useful to their future plans). Our AP exam scores reflect mixed results over time and it was made clear last Tuesday that we all want our students to prepare and perform as well as possible. When compared with other similar communities (ref: the DESE web site) our scores look unimpressive, but the devil is in the details. The AP philosophy at MHS is that every student who seeks the rigor of an AP class and who is willing to do the work has the opportunity to enroll. In addition, by virtue of enrolling, the student also agrees to take the exam in May so we have virtually 100% participation on test day. Test day also includes students who weren't enrolled in the class but choose to self-study and take on the challenge the test brings. Conversely, many similar communities screen students to allow only those who meet selected criteria to enroll in the class, and don't allow opting out of the test or opting in if not enrolled in the class. As such, their aggregate test scores are likely higher. A recent New York Times article speaks to accessing AP courses, specifically by a diverse group of students (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/us/pulling-a-more-diverse-group-of-achievers-into-the-advanced-placement-pool.html?_r=1&). 

My opinion? Continue to support access for as many students who want to take the AP challenge as possible, and provide AP teachers with the most training and resources that we can afford. Encouraging continued employment of this MHS philosophy not only speaks to national, state, and Melrose emphasis on rigor and accountability to ensure that all students are college and career ready, but it also reinforces important life skills like taking on a new challenge, hard work, and perseverance. (And if they end up with college credits to take with them on their journey, all the better!)