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The Boston Globe

Metro

7 schools designated as underperforming by state

State education officials, citing persistently low MCAS scores, designated seven schools across the state — including two in Boston — as “underperforming” on Friday, while commending 48 others for robust improvement or high achievement on the tests.

The seven schools are the third group to be deemed underperforming under a 2010 state law, bringing the total number to 38, representing 2 percent of all schools statewide. While the designations bring bad publicity, they also enable the schools to take advantage of an array of measures to execute changes, such as replacing all teachers, if need be, and extending the school day.

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The officials made the announcement as they released the latest round of MCAS scores for individual schools and districts, a popular barometer of achievement. The announcement came two days after officials released statewide testing results, which showed historic highs on the 10th-grade exams but troubling declines in reading scores in elementary schools.

Schools in affluent suburbs such as Lexington, Newton, and Concord frequently landed in the top five for various grades in English and math, according to a Globe analysis. But some Boston public schools as well as charter schools in Boston, Lawrence, and Marlborough also cracked the top five.

The Globe ranked schools based on the percentage of students who scored “advanced,” the top grade on the exams, administered each spring to grades 3-8 and Grade 10.

Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said he was proud of how most schools performed across the state, but expressed concern about having too many low-achieving ones. He said he had designated the seven additional schools as underperforming because of years of chronically low MCAS scores.

“We are seeing no evidence of the scores moving in a positive direction,” Chester said in an interview. “We don’t identify schools for the sake of identifying schools. We do it to help districts turn them around.”

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The seven schools are Channing Elementary and Winthrop Elementary in Boston; Riverbend School in Athol-Royalston; Watson Elementary in Fall River; New Bedford High; and Bradley Elementary and the High School of Science and Technology in Springfield.

Boston also added to the ranks of its underperforming schools, bringing the city’s total to nine, just two days after officials learned that Dever and Holland elementary schools are likely to be taken over by the state this fall. Dever and Holland were declared underperforming three years ago but failed to achieve a rapid turnaround.

Taken together, the developments are threatening to overshadow some of Boston’s success at overhauling struggling schools. On the same day state officials announced the likely takeovers, they also released five other Boston schools from their underperforming status for making notable gains.

“While we would like all schools to continuously improve, this [underperforming designation] give us the flexibility and tools we need to drive rapid improvement,” said Brian Ballou, a Boston School Department spokesman.

The state’s three-year effort toward fixing ailing schools has yielded mixed results. Of the original group of 35 schools, designated in March 2010, 14 have emerged out of the status, while two schools have closed and four others, including the two in Boston, face receivership.

Education officials have been pouring much money and attention on Lawrence’s school system, which was taken over by the state nearly two years ago.

The MCAS results released Friday revealed gains in many areas for Lawrence, particularly in math, where grades 3, 5, 8, and 10 saw double-digit increases in the number of students scoring proficient or higher. But there were some slight drops, particularly in third- and fourth-grade reading.

“We are excited about it, but we have a long ways to go,” said Jeffrey Riley, receiver and superintendent for the Lawrence schools. “We want our kids to do as well as the suburban kids.”

Another key feature of the state’s overhaul of public education has enabled charter schools with proven track records to open additional campuses. In Boston, the Edward Brooke and Excel Academy charter schools, which landed in the top five on some of the latest MCAS tests in the Globe analysis, have opened more schools.

Boston has 27 charter schools, the maximum that can operate in the city under state law. Lifting the charter school cap has turned into a hot-button issue in this year’s mayoral race, with candidates divided over whether the state should raise it. Several bills are pending in the Legislature, including at least one that would abolish the cap.

Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits, said the cap should only be lifted as part of a package that would also enable school districts to make dramatic changes, including bypassing union contract provisions at other schools teetering on the brink of being declared underperforming.

“There is an urgency to respond,” Tyler said. “Students are not meeting the standards at these schools and that is not going to help them as they advance through the grades.”

Friday’s announcement also noted the state has nominated four schools for a National Blue Ribbon Schools award. They are Clarke Middle School in Lexington and Winchester High School for exemplary high performance, and New Mission High School in Boston and Worcester Technical High School for exemplary improvement.

“There is such excellent education happening in Massachusetts,” Chester said. “I wish we could call out every teacher and administrator doing great things. If we did, we would be calling out thousands of names.”

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis. Matthew Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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