MCAS Scores and the Achievement Gap

The 2011 MCAS scores were released last week (check out our roundup of the news). The Boston Globe published its own review of the results yesterday in which they examined the scores by income level. The article, “MCAS scores appear stuck in income gap,” found that “schools with substantial numbers of low-income students are consistently failing to meet academic benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law, with more than 60 percent falling short of standards in English, and math, and lagging well behind schools with wealthier students.”

The article cited language barriers, lack of after-school care, homelessness, and mobility as “out-of-school” factors affecting low-income students. These are exactly the types of supports and services to which our School Site Coordinators connect students and families, in addition to enrichment opportunities like music, art, and athletic programs. We believe that this comprehensive method of delivering student support makes students better able to learn and thrive in school.

Our results show that City Connects (CCNX) students outperform their Boston Public School (BPS) peers on MCAS English Language Arts and Math, even after they leave a City Connects school and go on to middle school. The graphs below shows MCAS ELA results using 2009-10 data; City Connects students approach the state average by grade 8. To give you an idea of low-income status, 82% of our City Connects students in 2009-10 were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. We think this is strong evidence that student support is a powerful mechanism that can help narrow the achievement gap.


Both/And: Improving Education in Schools and in the Community

City Connects team member Matthew Welch penned a thoughtful guest post on BC professor Andy Hargreaves‘ blog, “Both/And: Improving Education in Schools and in the Community,” in which he proposes a way to stop the cycle of blame in education reform. The achievement gap is not just the fault of teachers, nor can it be solely attributed to out-of-school factors like poverty. Schools and the communities are jointly implicated and both should be part of the solution.  Matt writes:

“As a conscientious public, we should do whatever we can to improve [schools], focusing special attention on their most important element: teachers. But we should also acknowledge that there are bigger issues that schools are not equipped to address. The good news is that much of that expertise is already there—often already paid for—in the communities surrounding schools.”

For more information:

Out-of-School Factors In the News

Central to our philosophy at City Connects is that the out-of-school factors affecting students have a great impact on their ability to learn and thrive in school. (You can read about how we address out-of-school factors for children here.)

Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute has written beautifully on the subject, most recently in an issue brief, “How to Fix our Schools.” In the brief, Rothstein reiterates research that demonstrates only one-third of the achievement gap in schools is due to quality of instruction.

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in the quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors,” he wrote.

Two great articles published recently advocated for addressing out-of-school factors. Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville and Jeffrey R. Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University, jointly authored a commentary, “Why Attention Will Return to Non-School Factors,” in Education Week. Reville and Henig wrote:

“Our vision of the future of education reform is simple: American schools won’t achieve their goal of ‘all students at proficiency’ unless they attend to nonschool factors.”

They propose a multi-tiered solution comprising data that links student outcomes to services, quantifiable indicators of success that are measured long-term, and benchmarks that can provide feedback on student progress. Reville wrote an accompanying blog post, “Closing the Poverty Gap: The Way Forward for Education Reform,” about the relationship between poverty and student achievement in Massachusetts.

In the New York Times, Lisa Belkin considers attempts to increase parental engagement in schools in her article, “Whose Failing Grade Is It?“. Belkin introduces several pieces of state legislation aimed at mandating parents’ involvement in their children’s schools as a means to improve student performance. Belkin quotes Diane Ravitch, an education historian, who argues that parent education should be targeted to parents when their children are born up to age five. Ravitch goes on to say:

“…We need to acknowledge that the root problem is poverty.”

These two pieces call attention to the impact out-of-school factors can have on children–something we believe in strongly at City Connects. Our systematic approach to supporting students strengths and needs has proven effective; you can read about our results here.