Metro

Newly released English High MCAS scores show major gains

Tenth-graders at English High School in Boston have made major gains in math performance, according to MCAS scores posted this week, a month after state officials withheld the results over unspecified anomalies.

The latest scores, and previously released results of the English portion of the exam, mark a dramatic turn for the Jamaica Plain school, which for years has operated under the threat of state takeover. The marks suggest that a rigorous new focus on student performance that observers credit to Headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy is paying off.

The MCAS scores released this week show that in math, 66 percent of students scored in the top two tiers — proficient and advanced — up from 36 percent last year.

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The school flipped the proportions of students who performed in the highest and lowest ranges in math, going from 34 percent of students in the bottom tier last year to only 12 percent this year, and from just 13 percent in the top tier in 2014 to 32 percent in that range this spring.

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On the English portion of the test, a whopping 84 percent of 10th-graders scored in the top two tiers; only 5 percent fell into the lowest tier.

Last year, no English High 10th-graders scored in the advanced range for English; this year 10 percent did.

State officials withheld the math scores from last month’s release of data from schools across the state, prompting complaints from the school community that students were being unfairly suspected of wrongdoing.

But Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, OK’d the release of the results Tuesday after a state investigation validated them.

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“They are an accurate reflection of what these students have achieved,” Chester told the Globe Tuesday. “I’m very pleased to see that.”

Chester had said earlier that he had no reason to suspect cheating but was nonetheless concerned by the scores.

Teachers and students say there have been fundamental changes since Noriega-Murphy, the school’s first female leader, took the reins in 2012 and since Blueprint Schools Network, a Newton nonprofit, began providing operational assistance and intensive math tutoring in 2013.

“I love the staff here. They motivate us as much as they can,” said Valentina Fernandes, 17, of Dorchester — one of the students whose math scores had been withheld.

“We have so many opportunities that the school offers us, and I think that does have to do with Noriega changing the school.”

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Reneé Patten, who has taught at English High since 2002, said Noriega-Murphy came to the school with “a precise vision of where she wanted the school to go.”

The headmaster has worked collaboratively with teachers, collecting and analyzing student data and using it to identify gaps in learning and to target additional support, Patten said.

“Every teacher in that school taught an extra class every day for six weeks, on two or three cycles, and kids gave up their electives to go to these extra math or [English] classes,” said Patten, who oversees English High’s use of data on student performance, attendance, and discipline.

“It was constant,” she continued. “Every week we looked at that data to see how are the kids meeting the skills and the benchmarks.”

Matthew Spengler, executive director of the Blueprint network, said his organization has provided support but gave most of the credit for the students’ success to the headmaster and faculty.

“Ligia, her [administrative] team, and the teachers have done just a remarkable job of implementing some research-based strategies that, when combined together, lead to positive student outcomes,” Spengler said.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached
at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.