Boston Latin, Clap schools lose top standing after 15 students opt out of test
A new report on state standardized test scores has downgraded Boston Latin School, one of the city’s premier educational institutions, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on a radio show Monday morning.
The mayor said his understanding of the report is that the state will downgrade Latin School and the Roger Clap School in Dorchester from Level 1 to Level 2 schools.
The downgrade is relatively minor: Eighty percent of state schools are either Level 1 or Level 2 schools. Twenty percent rank in Level 3, 4, or 5 and make up the state’s lowest performing schools.
But the downgrade could come as a blow to the reputation of elite Latin School and the morale at the Clap School, which has made enormous strides in recent years.
Walsh faulted the downgrade on the fact that 15 students opted out of taking the new PARCC assessment exam. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a group of states working together to develop a modern assessment that replaces previous state standardized tests, according to its website.
By students opting out of the test, the mayor said the schools did not meet the 95 percent participation threshold required for maintaining its Level 1 standing.
“It’s very unfair,” Walsh told hosts on Boston Herald Radio.
Records show that last year Latin School also had “very low assessment participation” — about 90 percent.
Walsh said both schools began using the PARCC assessment test this year, and parents were given the option by the commissioner of education to not take the test if they chose.
Noting “flaws in the system,’’ Walsh said the state should not then penalize schools because a few students opted out of the exam.
“Parents and students aren’t being penalized, and they shouldn’t be. But the school is being penalized because the parents or the students opted out of the test,’’ Walsh said on the show. “It’s completely wrong. It is not right.”
City Councilor Matt O’Malley, a Latin School graduate, said it was outrageous that Latin School and Clap would get penalized for not having enough students take the tests.
“It’s beyond disappointing,” O’Malley said. “If [State Commissioner for Elementary and Secondary Education] Mitchell Chester can’t fix this he should step down.”
Carrie Weatherhead, a Dorchester mother, said she feels “awful” about the downgrade because her son was one of the two Roger Clap students who opted out of taking PARCC.
“My son is the reason they went to a Level 2,’’ she said.
She said before opting out, she checked with the superintendent’s office, the principal at the time, and some of her son’s teachers last year. They all told her that the school would not be affected as long she wrote a formal letter explaining why her son was opting out of taking the test.
She said her son, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the time, wrote a detailed letter making the argument that there was too much focus on standardized testing, that it unnecessarily took him from class time, and that he would not benefit from taking the tests, Weatherhead said.
He spent the nearly two weeks during the testing period reading three novels and writing an essay, she added.
But now it seems that his decision did have an overall impact on the school standing.
“I feel bad for the school, because I feel like it’s my fault,’’ she said.
She said the way the state should take more into account small schools like hers, which has one class per grade and roughly 150 students.
Weatherhead said the Roger Clap is an “amazing school,” adding that parents, along with students and teachers, worked “incredibly hard” to make improvements. But she worries the news reports of the downgrade will now taint the school.