BU News Service
Brookline public school students’ scores have declined on state progress reports in English, math and science since 2012, with English language learners, former English language learners and students with disabilities dropping the furthest.
The reports, which rate student achievement according to dropout rates, graduation rates and standardized test scores, show Brookline rated as a Level 2 district, meaning achievement disparities between high needs students and others are not lessening.
“The most concerning is the gaps between different types of students,” Ben Lummis, assistant to the superintendent for strategy and planning for Brookline schools, said. “It’s not one number or another number.”
The state separates students into several demographics: high needs, English language learners and former English language learners, students with disabilities, Asian, white, African-American/black, Hispanic/Latino and multi-race.
Discrepancies between the achievements of these groups are what worry Lummis. He would not single out specific reasons why scores have dropped, but stressed the town’s responsibility to educate students regardless of circumstances.
Brookline resident and mother of three, Sara Stoutland, who also serves on the town’s school council, said she believes an influx of new students has overwhelmed the public schools.
Since 2005, enrollment in Brookline public schools increased 25 percent, adding more than 1,500 students to 6,014, according to district data. Between 2012 and 2015, about 400 students enrolled, a 5.6 percent increase in three years.
“Much of this can be brought back to unprecedented enrollment,” Stoutland said. “As you’re growing, everyone has to learn how to operate the school or operate the classroom.”
Almost all demographics of Brookline students have been losing ground in the state’s performance data, which scores groups between 1 and 100. Although Massachusetts extrapolates scores from multiple factors, scores for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, the standardized state test, fluctuated the most within the three-year timeframe.
In 2015, three of nine demographic groups, Asian, multi-race and white students, met the minimum the target score 75. Comparatively, five groups hit the target in 2012.
The state’s data, which shows students with disabilities, Hispanic students and African-American/black students scores falling more than 30 points below white and Asian students’, echoes Brookline’s own report regarding remaining achievement gaps between groups.
A 2014 town report showed similar differences between Hispanic, African-American students and low-income students and white, Asian and multi-race students. In particular, it emphasized “a particular challenge with the widening African-American – White achievement gap.”
The similarities in state and town data reflect the growing problem of how different demographics of students in Brookline are doing academically. Disparities between demographics indicate that the town’s schools are not addressing students’ diverse racial and economic needs. Gaps between students reveals the district’s difficulties in meeting all demographics’ needs.
Brookline has two main programs that target minority and special needs groups: Steps to Success, which targets low-income groups, and the African American and Latino Scholars Program.
The African American and Latino Scholars Program, started in 2002, runs a class at Brookline High School that helps students prepare for the SAT and ACT exams and encourages them to enroll in honors and Advanced Placement classes.
Christopher Vick, director of the program, said the state test reports did not paint a comprehensive picture of students’ achievement.
“Just looking at MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) scores is completely useless,” Vick said. “One or two [wrong] answers can move a kid from advanced to proficient.”
Instead, he advocates measuring progress through the enrollment of minority students in AP classes and their college attendance.
Vick, like Lummis, emphasized Brookline’s individualized teaching style as a key strategy to helping students improve. Vick also stressed the importance of recruiting teachers of color, emphasizing the importance for students to see people who look like them as role models.
Overall, Brookline’s scores are more advanced in every category than Massachusetts as a whole. The state’s only group to hit the target was Asians, a group in Brookline that also scored above the target, and above the state average. In all other categories the state fell anywhere between four and 43 points below their respective Brookline peers.
However, with the exception of white and multi-race students, Massachusetts students as a whole improved. Brookline students’ have not gained any ground in the state’s progress and performance data, which measures students’ growing achievement, with the exception of multi-race students.
Brookline schools haven’t necessarily gone backwards in terms of performance, but have instead stagnated, said Jackie Reis, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Parents of students with disabilities and English language learners, she said, should be most concerned. But the data is most useful to start discourse about what problems Brookline schools are not tackling.
“The data is most useful as a starting point for conversations,” Reis said. Brookline schools could begin, she said, by making sure their curriculum is aligned to state standards and by examining what changes to curriculum might better address every student’s needs.