NORTH ADAMS -- Recently released MCAS rankings labeling two Northern Berkshire school districts as Level 3 -- being in need of assistance -- weren't a surprise to local administrators, who say their districts have been proactively working to correct those achievement gaps.
A school district is ranked at the same level as the lowest performing school in its district.
In the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, C.T. Plunkett Elementary School was the only school to receive the level 3 status, while in the North Adams Public School District, Drury High School received the same ranking.
Individual school and district results of the 2012 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in the three subject areas of English language arts, mathematics and science/technology were released by the state Wednesday, along with first-year accountability reporting data, which replaces scores from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Adams-Cheshire Superintendent Alfred Skrocki said the district is working to close the achievement gaps at each of its three schools -- Plunkett, Cheshire Elementary and Hoosac Valley High & Middle School.
"Once you get that rating, it's difficult to get out of [it]. It's based on percentages over a sustained period of time, and each year your goal increases. Meeting those goals can be a challenge," he said. "At Plunkett, the focus for a while has been on demographic segments of our population,
Overall, Plunkett failed to have students in any grade tested -- students in last year's third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades -- meet any of the state benchmarks for the number of students needing to score in the proficient or advanced categories.
However, when examined more closely, the school scored above target in the mathematics proficiency gap-narrowing category for students in demographics of low-income, high needs and having disabilities. It was on target for all students. In the English language arts proficiency gap narrowing, the school showed "no change" for most categories, but improved above target for its students with disabilities demographic.
At Cheshire Elementary, more third-graders scored in the proficient and advanced categories than the state average in reading and math, as did fifth-graders in the English language arts subject tests.
Changes began being made regardless of those scores at the beginning of the school year, with new English language arts and math curriculums, which align with the state core curriculum. The district has also implemented a new writing program, brought its special education curriculum in line with the new classroom curriculum, and has launched a new district-wide initiative focusing on literacy.
"Because Plunkett has been labeled a Level 3 school, we also have access to help from the state," he said.
At Hoosac Valley, new English and math curriculums in line with the state core were put in place a few years ago, but the district implemented corresponding programs for sixth-graders -- now at the middle school -- this fall.
North Adams Superintendent James E. Montepare said Thursday that parents need to review the in-depth data for schools, which holds more valuable information than the mere labels applied to individual schools.
While Drury High School, with its 8-12 configuration, was identified as a Level 3 school, a deeper look at its scores shows that it scored above or on target in both the English language arts and math proficiency gap-narrowing categories in all of its subgroups. For science, the school as a whole either showed "no change" or improved below target in all of its subgroups.
The school also had more 10th-graders score in the proficient or advanced categories on last year's science MCAS than the state average.
Another demographic factoring into the high school's failure to meet state targets, Montepare said, was its decline in graduation rates for low-income and high-needs students over a four-year period.
"Part of the problem is that we have small classes -- if you lose just five kids out of 100, that's 5 percent of your class," he said. "We had eight kids that decided to earn their GEDs. We also have kids who transfer in from other schools as juniors and decide to take a different path after coming here. Because we're their last school, it counts against us."
He said the district is making "great strides" in the retaining potential drop-outs by offering alternative programs, such as its new E3 Academy, and also by reauthorizing special education services to help kids stay in school.
At the elementary school level, Greylock had more students scoring higher than the state average in the proficient and advanced categories in third grade for math; in fifth and sixth grade in English and math; and in seventh grade for English.
Sullivan Elementary also had more students performing at the proficient or advanced levels than the state average in seventh grade for English.