fb-pixelState officials mum on English High MCAS inquiry - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

State officials mum on English High MCAS inquiry

Nearly three weeks after they withheld the release of some MCAS scores for English High School, state education officials have yet to explain the move, causing frustration to build among some families and educators at the school.

Citing irregularities that require examination, the officials suppressed 10th-grade math results for the Jamaica Plain school when statewide results were released Sept. 24. It was the only school in the state to have scores withheld.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said she could not comment on the inquiry into the test scores and could not say how long it would take to complete. “It really varies by the instance,” said the spokeswoman, Jacqueline Reis. “They’re all different.”

Advertisement



Passage of the MCAS is a requirement for high school graduation in Massachusetts, so the suppression of their scores creates uncertainty for English High students.

“To err on the side of caution, we have recommended that the school sign up students for the November re-test,” Reis said in an e-mail.

Stephen M. Berkowitz, a 1960 English High graduate and a member of its board of directors, expressed frustration with the inquiry. He called the ongoing lack of communication from state officials “a slap in the face.”

Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, told reporters last month that he had no reason to suspect cheating had occurred at English High, but he was nonetheless concerned by the scores.

“I saw some anomalies in the scores on the math side that I want to review before we will release them,” Chester said at the time.

The state did release results from the English portion of the test that showed dramatic improvement. Ten percent of students were ranked advanced, up from zero in 2014, and 74 percent were ranked proficient, up from 51 percent last year.

Advertisement



The percentage of English scores in the warning/failing column plummeted from 23 last year to 5 percent in 2015.

Berkowitz said in a phone interview that the school is experiencing a rebirth under the leadership of Headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy.

“She is the type of person that engenders a spirit that makes you want to succeed,” Berkowitz said. “She projects confidence, and that’s reflected in the way the students and the alumni respond. We’re very, very lucky to have her.”

Berkowitz said Noriega-Murphy and the school’s cadre of dedicated, young teachers have created a new atmosphere that is focused on learning, and the students have responded.

“These kids are polite, they’re respectful,” he said. “There’s no pushing. There’s no shoving. There’s no yelling.”

Each year, education officials look for “statistical anomalies” before releasing MCAS data, but it is rare for them to withhold scores.


James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.