Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Focus Remains on Continued Improvement
Under the leadership of Superintendent Daniel Warwick, Springfield Public Schools (SPS) has seen an eight-fold increase in the number of schools achieving the state’s highest ranking and student academic performance is higher than ever before.
According to information released by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), nine schools in Springfield have achieved a Level 1 designation, increased from a single Level 1 school in 2012. Level 1 is the highest designation in the state’s accountability system for schools, which spans levels one through five.
SPS now has 16 Level 1 and 2 schools, compared to only five in 2012. In addition, the overall number of Level 3 and 4 schools has changed from 36 in 2012 to 29 in 2016.
Warwick, who took the helm of the district in 2012, said the schools’ ranking improvements represent an overall uplift of SPS. These accomplishments, he said, are the result of dedicated educators, hardworking students, and a committed community.
“This news represents significant improvements for Springfield Public Schools and we should all take pride in the direction we are heading,” said Warwick. “We continue to make progress year after year and we should celebrate without losing sight of the hard work that still lies ahead. We must continue raising the bar.”
In addition to the improvement in school rankings, Warwick pointed to the steady progression of student academic performance over the past four years.
According to data released by DESE yesterday, the district’s Composite Performance Index (which measures academic progress toward proficiency) in English Language Arts (ELA) is at 75, which is an increase of 4.3 points since 2012. Likewise, the Composite Performance Index (CPI) in math is 66, up by 7.3 points since 2012. Both scores are the highest ever achieved SPS by since the state began publishing districtwide aggregate scores.
Warwick said the significance of this year’s gains in ELA and math are magnified because students achieved them while taking a new, more rigorous state assessment test for the first time.
While individual schools throughout the state had the option of administering either the traditional MCAS test or the next generation PARCC test, Springfield embraced the PARCC test as a district and administered it to all students in grades three through eight. PARCC differs from MCAS, most notably, in that it measures college and career readiness. By contrast, MCAS was designed exclusively as a requirement for high school graduation.
“We knew our teachers and students would rise to the challenge of a new, more rigorous test, and of course, that’s just what they did,” said Warwick, adding that the district’s successful transition to the new Common Core standards effectively prepared teachers and students for the PARCC assessment. “To make these kinds of gains under any circumstances is noteworthy, but to have such a jump when you are switching to a new test - that by all accounts is more rigorous - is a testimony to our teachers and students.”
Contributing to the overall success of the school district are the gains made by third grade students who took the PARCC assessment. The percent of third-graders scoring proficient or higher rose by four percentage points in ELA. Similarly, third grade students’ CPI scores rose by 6.2 points in ELA. These gains represent progress on an important literacy benchmark because research shows that reading proficiency at this grade level is a positive indicator of high school success and completion. Warwick pointed out that literacy has been a focal point of the district and education supporters throughout his tenure.
“We have embedded literacy throughout the curriculum and the importance of literacy is a message that has echoed loudly,” said Warwick. “Community support for these efforts has been widespread and for that we are grateful.”
District wide, the percentage of students who scored proficient in ELA and math this year rose four percentage points in each of those subjects. Since 2012, those gains have registered at five percentage points for ELA and 11 percentage points for math.
“You look at our gains in student achievement and school ratings and couple that with the fact that we have cut the drop-out rate in half and that our graduation rate has risen more than 10 points since 2012, and you realize that these are remarkable results,” said Warwick. “Slowly but surely, we are narrowing the education gap.”
Warwick pointed to increasing budget constraints, the high rate of poverty that plagues many of the district’s families and other harsh realities Springfield faces as an urban community as challenges to be overcome. “We work hard every day to defy those barriers,” said Warwick. “There has been a deliberate, unwavering, concentrated and multi-tiered effort aimed at producing these very types of results. And our work is far from complete.”
DESE’s release of data also included the announcement that William N. DeBerry Elementary School, which had been designated Level 4, has exited that status and is now Level 3.
In addition, six other Springfield schools improved their level in the state’s accountability system from 2015 to 2016: Sumner Avenue Elementary from Level 3 to 1; Freedman Elementary from 2 to 1; Harris Elementary from 2 to 1; STEM Middle School from 3 to 1; Liberty Elementary from 3 to 2; and the Springfield Renaissance School from 3 to 2.
STEM is the first SPS secondary school to achieve a Level 1 status.
The High School of Commerce remains a Level 4 School, now under DESE’s review. “We are eager to find new pathways to success to build on the gains that Commerce has experienced over the past couple of years,” said Warwick.
The percent of 10th graders achieving proficiency in ELA at that school rose from 51 percent in 2012 to 64 percent this year, and the attendance rate at the High School of Commerce has improved from 81.2 to 93.8 percent during that same time period. In addition, the graduation rate has gone from 35.4 to 47 percent from 2012 to last year; and the drop-out rate declined from 13.6 to 6.3 percent during that time.