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Does Worcester Need an Academically Selective High School?

Friday, January 17, 2014

 

The topic of an academically selective high school in the Worcester Public Schools is being picked up again as the district enters budget season.

Administrators are expected to pass along their recommendation to school committee members this month or next, following an ad hoc group's report last year.

That study considered the establishment of an “exam school” for high achieving students in grades 9 through 12. The alternative of an International Baccalaureate (IB) program was also looked at.

Spurred by Mayor Joseph Petty, the goal is an academically rigorous high school setting for star pupils.

While there's general agreement on the need for more rigorous offerings, opinions on how to move forward are divided.

Varied concerns and opinions

“We're heading into budget season — that's what it's largely going to come down to,” said Tracy Novick, a school committee member and chair of the ad hoc committee of school board and community leaders that studied the options of an exam school and IB program. “I continue to have the same view on the proposals ... there are merits to both.”

In terms of the academically selective school, “how you do it has a large consequence (on its success),” Novick said, stressing the importance of selection criteria that did not revolve solely around test scores.

The committee's February 2013 report recommends an admission process that considered scores on a new exam specifically for admission, the student's past academic record, a portfolio of work including an essay, and an interview with members of an admissions committee.

“The term exam school tends to be off-putting,” said Brian O'Connell, another member of both committees who expressed a desire for a program that would look at a variety of factors, enabling it to draw a population with varied expertise and background.

“I hope the administration will recommend an academic program that will meet the needs of the most academically gifted students,” O'Connell said, whether a separate school or, “more likely,” a program housed in an existing school building.

“We really have a range of options,” O'Connell said.

“The main concern, which is one I share, is to make sure it strengthens Worcester Public Schools as a whole, rather than being detrimental to the district or (individual) schools,” Novick said.

Up for debate: Whether exam schools create better results

A December 2012 study by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau concluded that the district ought to establish a high school for academically talented students, for both participating students' sake and the school system and community as a whole.

“I am promoting that and have supported that establishment, or reestablishment,” said Demitrios Moschos, a local attorney and research bureau board member who graduated from Worcester's former Classical High School that closed in 1966.

“It was a very challenging school, but the education was outstanding,” Moschos said of Classical High. “I think programs need to be designed for each student,” he continued, contrasted with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Pointing to the standard of excellence at the specialized Worcester Vocational Technical High School, “we think it's very important we have a preparatory education in the public schools,” Moschos said.

But Jack Foley, a school committee member who also sat on the ad hoc study committee, said he didn't support a separate exam school.

Removing the top 20 or 30 students from each school, “the damage to those sending schools is something you need to look at,” Foley said, pointing to the potential negative impact on sending schools (and those schools' public perception) after removing those students. “You need to look at the effect across our school system.”

“I do think we can do more to challenge our highest performing students and give them the opportunity to do more in the classroom,” Foley continued, along the lines of an IB-like program in each school building. But he said it was important to allow top students to stay in the same buildings for interaction and to serve as good role models. “You don't want to lose that leadership.”

O'Connell said that was a legitimate concern but one that could be addressed.

Budgetary constraints may prohibit change

No school committee member approached by GoLocal could tell what recommendation might come from administrators in coming days.

Superintendent Melinda Boone's office did not respond on the subject by press time Thursday. But ever-difficult financial considerations may restrict available options.

Initial year financial planning for a wholly separate selective admission school is estimated at $739,900, for staff but no student body.

The first operational year would begin with a 9th grade class and cost $2.2 million. Each successive year of operation would add a grade, until year four of operation when annual expenses are estimated at $5.2 million for a population of about 500 students.

The IB program, an international college preparatory curriculum, could be offered in the 11th and 12th grades and was budgeted at $167,800 in the initial planning year, rising to $417,277 in years three and four with a total student population of about 250.

Foley, chair of the finance committee, said he had some grave concerns with the upcoming budget as it currently stood, before any executive budget proposal from Gov. Deval Patrick's office.

“It's still early, but it's going to be a challenge,” Foley predicted, driven by increasing expenses and the effort to keep class sizes steady.

'Magnet' schools originally to boost inclusivity

John Laughner, legislative and communications manager of the national Magnet Schools of America, said an academically selective school would obviously garner higher caliber students.

While having no official position on the issue area, Laughner said his organization encouraged members not to create those types of programs, where you run the risk of creating “has and has nots,” he said.

“By creating highly selective programs, it doesn't send the right message,” Laughner continued, pointing to the original impetus for magnet schools, racial integration, and their primary role today focused around general themes like the arts.

While Worcester currently has six magnet schools at the elementary level, the only specialized option at the secondary level is Worcester Vocational Technical.

“Exam schools or schools that use test scores as criteria are dwindling,” according to Magnet Schools of America Executive Director Scott Thomas. “Schools that strive for equity and have the ability to teach all students at high levels shouldn't need it. What I will say is that students who are highly gifted require a different level of support and in some districts they provide that support through a highly selective process. Many of the highest performing magnet schools do not use academic admissions criteria, however, some use propensity for talent (i.e. auditions)."

O'Connell said his greatest fear was the discussion would not result in any action. Whether an accelerated program housed in an existing building, or an IB-focused curriculum, “I'd say let's look at both.”

“They can certainly be a complement,” to one another and other offerings, according to O'Connell.

 

Related Slideshow: Central MA School Districts with the Highest Teacher Evaluations

During the 2012-2013 school year, Race to the Top (RTTT) districts in Massachusetts were required to implement the new Educator Evaluation framework with at least 50 percent of their educators district-wide. Of Central Massachusetts’s 52 school districts, 26 implemented the Educator Evaluation structure. These 26 school districts are listed below ranked from the lowest teacher evaluation score to the highest. Keep reading to see where your district’s teachers rank, as well as to view the state and regional averages.

Prev Next

State Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 7.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 85.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 37,940

Total number of educators evaluated: 61,441

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Central MA Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 5.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.04%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 8,843

Total number of educators evaluated: 5,987

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#26 Quaboag

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 75.0%

Percentage that need improvement: 18.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 131

Total number of educators evaluated: 80

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#25 Oxford

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 73.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 17.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 168

Total number of educators evaluated: 46

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#24 Uxbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 84.2

Percentage that need improvement: 15.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 19

Prev Next

#23 Fitchburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 77.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 13.3%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.9%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 456

Total number of educators evaluated: 233

Prev Next

#22 Westborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 1.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 335

Total number of educators evaluated: 67

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#21 Lunenburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,209

Total number of educators evaluated: 495

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#20 North Brookfield

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 59

Total number of educators evaluated: 37

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#19 Millbury

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 2.2%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 158

Total number of educators evaluated: 91

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#18 Blacktone-Millville

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 81.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 7.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 94

Prev Next

#17 Southbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 212

Total number of educators evaluated: 152

Prev Next

#16 Worcester

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.2%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.4%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,859

Total number of educators evaluated: 1,825

Prev Next

#15 Webster

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 159

Total number of educators evaluated: 101

Prev Next

#14 Hudson

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.8%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 288

Total number of educators evaluated: 153

Prev Next

#13 Gardner

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 91.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 227

Total number of educators evaluated: 120

Prev Next

#12 Dudley-Charlton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.6%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 320

Total number of educators evaluated: 168

Prev Next

#11 Northbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 229

Total number of educators evaluated: 200

Prev Next

#10 Winchendon

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 139

Total number of educators evaluated: 137

Photo: Flickr/AdmissionsQuest

Prev Next

#9 Bellingham

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 215

Total number of educators evaluated: 206

Prev Next

#8 Quabbin

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 4.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 92.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.5%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 207

Total number of educators evaluated: 199

Prev Next

#7 Grafton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 97.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 253

Total number of educators evaluated: 178

Prev Next

#6 Ralph C. Maher

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 94.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 79

Total number of educators evaluated: 76

Prev Next

#5 Marlborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 96.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 434

Total number of educators evaluated: 423

Prev Next

#3 Auburn (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 202

Total number of educators evaluated: 116

Prev Next

#3 Leominster (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 523

Total number of educators evaluated: 332

Prev Next

#2 Wachusett

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 29.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 70.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 534

Total number of educators evaluated: 334

Prev Next

#1 Douglas

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 123

Total number of educators evaluated: 105

 
 

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