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For Immediate Release
Monday, October 21, 1996
Contact:Alan Safran

Spring 1996 Massachusetts Tests Show Statewide Improvement In Grade 4 Science And Reading Over Past Eight Years

Upton - Statewide student test scores from the spring of 1996 show a continuing significant improvement in student achievement levels in grade 4 reading and science and grade 8 reading over the past eight years.

Over the shorter term, compared to the 1994 test scores, statewide performance of students at grades 4, 8 and 10 in the four academic areas tested -- reading, mathematics,

science and social studies -- remained the same or improved slightly.

The test, called the Massachusetts Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), was given to students at three grades every two years for the past decade. There is no passing score, and there are no individual student scores. The test was designed to measure the effectiveness of curriculum. Results were released Monday by Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci at a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Education at the Blackstone Valley Regional School in Upton.

The MEAP was administered to more than 173,000 students in March and April of this year. A large majority of students in grades 4, 8 and 10 took the test. Some exemptions for students with severe special needs or substantially limited English proficiency, were the principal reasons why not all students took the test. The test used a combination of multiple choice questions and open ended essay questions. The 1996 MEAP was the final round of that test.

The state's testing program is now being revised to conform with the requirements of the 1993 Education Reform Act. The new test will differ from the MEAP in three major

ways. It will provide individual student scores. Second, there will be a passing score. Passing the 10th grade test will be one of the conditions for graduation for all students. Finally, the new test is designed to actually measure what is being taught in schools. It will test student achievement and understanding of the academic standards defined in the state's curriculum framework guides for teachers which are being developed in the core academic areas.

Of all test areas in all three grades, the largest increase in scores since 1988 is in the area of grade 8 reading. The increases occurred in three reading categories, including a 150 point improvement in the area of content passages (in which students are tested on their reading of informational, nonfiction pieces), and 100 point improvements in vocabulary and in inferential comprehension (in which students analyze meaning, evaluate text, and apply prior knowledge to understand an unfamiliar

passage).

The MEAP was an assessment of progress only loosely based on the actual curriculum taught in public schools, because there was no requirement that local curriculum in grades 4, 8 and 10 be directly aligned with the content of the MEAP. However, because there is a set of results reported every two years since 1986, the MEAP results do provide valuable information to school districts to improve curriculum and instruction. Using the MEAP results, it is possible both to compare similar schools and

districts with each other, and to describe what students know and can do.

Commenting on the results, Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci said, "Over the long term, student performance has increased significantly in the areas of grade 8 reading and grade 4 science and reading. This is good news. However, we must continue to strengthen our efforts to improve student achievement. If Massachusetts is to remain competitive with other states and nations, student achievement must rise significantly."

"The goal of the Education Reform law is to strengthen student achievement. The tools provided in that law, which include major improvements in funding, more rigorous academic curriculum, better instruction, streamlining of school governance, and better training for teachers, will achieve the goal of better student achievement if we adhere to our seven year commitment to that law. We are now reaching the midpoint of those seven years, and we need to accelerate the progress and move on to higher levels," Antonucci added.

The MEAP scores are reported in two ways. "Scaled scores" describe how schools perform relative to each other. Demographic information on the students who take the test are used to compare one school or district to another which has similar characteristics. The MEAP has a scale ranging from 1000 to 1600, and the statewide average for each academic area was set at 1300 in 1988 for grade 4 and 8, and in 1994 for grade 10. Changes in scaled scores of 50 points or more are considered significant.

The other way MEAP scores are reported is in four "proficiency levels." Level 4 is the highest, and students who do work at this level show an exemplary grasp of knowledge, thinking, reasoning and communicating abilities. Level 3 describes students who are beginning to think critically, solve problems, reason and communicate

effectively. Level 2 describes students who have a firm grasp of factual knowledge. Level 1 students are beginning to grasp factual knowledge.

The percentage of students at proficiency level 2 and above, who show a firm grasp of factual knowledge in all subject areas, has increased steadily from 1992 to 1996 at all grade levels in all of the academic disciplines. Also, the percentage of students at level 3 or above, who have a firm grasp of facts as well as a capacity to think critically and solve problems, showed a significant increase since 1994 for students in grades 4, 8 and 10 in the crucial area of reading. However, the percentage of students at the top proficiency level 4 declined from 1994 to 1996 in most disciplines, except grade 4 science where it remained the same.



Last Updated: October 21, 1996
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