Fall River and New Bedford MCAS results, side by side

Mike McCarthy, Research Assistant, Urban Initiative


MCAS scores were released last week, and when I wanted to compare the results from schools in the SouthCoast’s two cities, New Bedford and Fall River, I visited the “2013 SouthCoast MCAS Scores by District” on The Standard Times website. I was perplexed to find that neither the Fall River public school district or the city’s Atlantis Charter School were included the paper’s breakdown of test scores for SouthCoast communities. Although, they do list Fall River’s vocational technical high school. Turning to the article “Latest MCAS results a mixed bag for Greater Fall River schools,” in the Fall River Herald, I found New Bedford had been omitted entirely.

New Bedford and Fall River are the largest population centers in the region. Demographically, these cities have no equal in the SouthCoast outside of each other. You could compare the MCAS scores of Fairhaven’s 1,980 public school student population to New Bedford’s 12,616 enrolled, but it does little when you are trying to inform the conversation around educational policy-making in the SouthCoast’s largest urban areas. The elements that produce high test scores in a town might not be possible to implement in a neighboring city with 6 times the test takers. This is why it is essential when talking about MCAS achievements, and when searching for best practices in education policy in general, for the conversation to be between all the communities in the SouthCoast, and not just limited to a New Bedford-centric, or a Fall River-centric analysis.

To allow for easy comparisons, Fall River and New Bedford’s public schools, greater regional vocational technical high schools, and charter schools are displayed in the graphs below with each city side by side and state-wide results overlaid. You can scroll over the bar to reveal each data point’s Composite Performance Index (CPI). The CPI uses a 100-point index as a means of interpreting the MCAS Proficiency Index, for evaluating student performance on the standard MCAS exam, and the MCAS-Alt Index, used for the MCAS Alternative Assessment. The numbers are calculated separately, by student, for each subject and grade level by the Massachusetts Department of Education and make for easy comparisons between cities and the state-wide average.

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Looking at the data, we can see, for instance, that high school students in Fall River are outscoring their New Bedford counterparts. New Bedford High School was recently designated a “Level 4” school by the state, a move which gives new superintendent Pia Durkin the power to quickly make changes to the underperforming school. When looking for new approaches, it may be worthwhile, in this case, to see if what’s being done right in Fall River can fix what’s wrong in New Bedford.
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