Test scores rise at local high school

Students at Mount Greylock Regional School are achieving and surpassing statewide standards on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), six years after the community decided to take action to improve falling and stagnant standardized test scores.

For the past two years, Mount Greylock has been recognized as a Massachusetts Level 1 School, the only public high school to achieve this ranking in Berkshire County. In the most recent test cycle, 93 percent, 77 percent and 51 percent, of students at Mount Greylock earned scores that qualified as proficient or better on the English and Language Arts, Mathematics and Science and Technology portions of the test, respectively.

“Most recently, not only have the scores improved dramatically, but students in the high needs category are doing well, which can include low income, special needs and students not proficient in English,” Mary MacDonald, principal of Mt. Greylock, said. “Mount Greylock is largely white, but where our diversity does lie is in socioeconomic disparity and to see [all] scores rising is very exciting.”

According to MacDonald, most students have historically achieved proficient or advanced levels on the English portion of the test and similarly steady scores in science. However “six years ago, the math scores started to tank.”

Back then, if you were to stop an average [College] faculty member, they would express concern [about Mount Greylock Regional School],” Jim Kolesar, vice president for public affairs, said.

The state of the school raised concerns in the College community partly because “the [high] school is important to the recruitment and retention of faculty and staff,” according to Kolesar. “A preponderance of Williams faculty either have had kids at Mount Greylock, currently have kids there, or will have kids there in the future,” Kolesar said. Approximately 20 percent of students currently attending Mount Greylock have one or more parent who is employed by the College.

In 2008, the College created the Williams Center at Mount Greylock Regional School as a resource designed to facilitate academic programing between the College and the

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regional school. Kaatje White, coordinator of the Williams Center, believes that the partnership between the College and the local school is unique. “If you are in a more urban area, there are more private players that play into [local schools]: businesses and multiple non-profits,” White said. “In rural areas, you don’t have a lot of other people to step in to help.”

White explained that in order for the Center to be successful,it took strong leadership [at Mount Greylock] to be able to identify what the problem was and what resources were needed to make improvement.”

“Because of the budget, there really were not any extracurriculars other than sports and the theater,” White said. “When the Williams Center started, it was about trying to plant many seeds and see what flowered.”

The Center has developed a number of programs for Mount Greylock students including after-school tutoring and the Writing Fellows program. In addition, the Center organizes lectures, performances and other extracurricular offerings for students on a monthly basis.

During the 2011-12 academic year, a College alumni family donated $735,000 to the College to establish the Williams College Fund for Mount Greylock. The benefactors indicated that the money should be used over a five-year period in ways that the school deemed beneficial.

“For a public school to have that funding and direct it in ways that will best support teaching and learning is incredible,” MacDonald said. The school also supplements this new donation with smaller scale grants for specific projects.

In the Center’s annual report for 2012-13, Superintendent Rose Ellis stated that throughout the school year, “the fund has supported a variety of programs that enhance academic rigor, align courses to Massachusetts Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, and make curriculum, instruction, and assessment more relevant to the students’ lives.”

Additionally, the administration at Mount Greylock has brought in outside consultants and teacher-coaches to rework the curriculum and adapt methods of instruction. Kolesar noted that some Mount Greylock faculty were initially hesitant about embracing outside help. So far, the school has begun major efforts reworking the math and science departments.

Other additions in the 2012-13 school year included a hands-on STEM enrichment course focused on tool design and mechanical engineering to help eighth graders prepare for standardized tests, improvements to the Pathways Job Shadowing Program, a comprehensive reevaluation of the arts program and updated technology in classrooms.

“I’m not sure if there is a correlation between the donation and the better math scores, but I think there is definitely a trend,” MacDonald said. She explained that around the same time that the College became more involved with the school, the school also hired a number of new teachers, who have also significantly contributed to recent improvements.

“When you are an overall good school, especially in this community, good scores should just be a base that we should not have to be worrying about,” MacDonald said. MacDonald emphasized that the school is not solely focusing on test scores, but hopes to “create opportunities for students to learn and not just survive, but thrive.”