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For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Contact:Heidi B. Perlman 781-338-3106 or Kim Beck 781-338-3105

BOE Votes To Declare Holyoke And Winchendon Underperforming

MALDEN - The Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to declare the Holyoke and Winchendon school districts "underperforming" and to put the North Adams and Keefe Technical School districts "on watch" for the next 12-18 months.

This is the first time any school district has been declared underperforming by the state's education board.

"Local decision making and community pride are hallmarks of our educational system, but they are not ends themselves," said Board of Education Chairman James Peyser. "Effort and good intentions are simply not enough. Student learning is the non-negotiable bottom line. And when students are consistently failing to meet expectations, all of us – the state included – have a responsibility to act."

In making his recommendation to the Board, Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll noted in a memo that all four of the districts referred for Board review are suffering from deficiencies in management and educational services. Driscoll recommended however, that only Holyoke and Winchendon be the subject of further state intervention at this time.

"We must ask whether it is reasonable to expect that local officials and staff can successfully plan and launch improvement initiatives without need, at this time, of additional State oversight or support," he wrote. "I have, as well, exercised judgement as to where limited State assistance resources are most needed, and likely to have the greatest positive impact at this time."

Officials from Holyoke and Winchendon will receive State guidance in determining the root causes of their students' low performance and assistance in formulating improvement plans. School officials must present a two-year district improvement plan to the Board, outlining how they plan to address the low academic achievement. If improvement goals have not been met in two years, the Board may declare the district to be "chronically underperforming," and discussions will begin at that time about whether or not a state takeover is needed.

The two districts placed "on watch" will be monitored regularly by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) to ensure officials work quickly to plan and implement changes to improve the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. If, at the end of the watch period progress has not been made, the Educational Management Audit Council (EMAC) may resubmit a referral to the Board that the district be declared chronically underperforming.

Commissioner Driscoll's recommendations were made after reviewing detailed reports drawn up by the EQA on MCAS results and achievement in the districts from 1999 to 2002. Over the past few months officials from each district have responded to the reports before the Board.

The reports cited findings related to attendance, curriculum and instruction, assessment, student achievement, leadership and management. Among the findings in Holyoke:

  • Based on the 2002 MCAS results, the district's Combined Proficiency Index was 48.6, making Holyoke the lowest performing K-12 district in the state.
  • Just 17.8 percent of students achieved proficiency, as compared to a state average of 49.2 percent.
  • 56.6 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch scored in the warning/failing category on the 2002 MCAS, as compared to a state average of 34.5 percent

In Winchendon:

  • Based on the 2002 MCAS results, the district's Combined Proficiency Index is 64.4, making the district the state's 20th lowest performing district.
  • 66.3 percent of students scored in the warning/failing category on the 2002 MCAS, 16.1 percent higher than the state average
  • For the period under examination, the district did not have a plan to guide the development of curriculum to meet the needs of all student populations.

In North Adams:

  • Based on the 2002 MCAS results, the district's Combined Proficiency Index is 59.7, making it the tenth lowest performing district in the state.
  • 27.8 percent of students achieved proficiency, compared to the state average of 49.8 percent.
  • Since 1999, overage student performance in North Adams has been unchanged, with declines in both English and math performance in 2002.

At the South Middlesex Regional Vocational Technical School (Joseph P. Keefe Technical School):

  • On MCAS Keefe students scored lower than the average performance of vocational students statewide.
  • In 2002, 85 percent of Keefe students scored in the needs improvement and warning/failing categories, 7.5 percent above the state average for vocational-technical school students.
  • From 1999 to 2002 the percentage of Keefe students scoring in Needs Improvement and warning/failing has decreased by 11.3 percent, but based on its Composite Proficiency Index the school has fallen from the fourth to the second lowest performing vocational-technical school in the state.

Last Updated: November 25, 2003
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