MCAS is more than a test — it’s a ‘health check’

When state test scores come out each year, it is a big deal at our school. We celebrate our scholars, our families, and each other as a community of educators. We also take the opportunity to figure out what we, as a school, can learn about where our kids excelled and where they struggled in order to better support them this school year.

For us, MCAS is so much more than a test. As teachers at Alma del Mar charter school we treat this exam as an annual health check on our classrooms: are we supporting kids so that they can reach their full potential in reading, writing, math, and science? Of course a single test cannot tell you everything about what is going on in our school. Our work as teachers goes far beyond the problem sets covered in one assessment. But for us, MCAS provides a critical piece of data that indicates whether our scholars are being challenged and set-up for success when it comes to pursuing college and career.

We have a lot to celebrate at Alma this year. Once again, Alma’s scholars did better in math than the average student across the commonwealth. Our third graders showcased the same math abilities and knowledge as students in Wellesley and Newton. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both math and English. African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers, as did our scholars who are English Language Learners and our scholars with special needs.

As our fellow public school teachers across the city know, none of these achievements came easily. Likewise, none of them are the result of just one individual’s labor. Our entire Alma crew, from our lower elementary school teachers to our phenomenal plant manager, works relentlessly each day to make sure our scholars reach their true potential.

Our work is never done. For example, we know we need to increase the number of hours that our scholars are reading if they’re going to truly catch up academically to their suburban peers. That’s why this year we’re increasing our efforts to ensure that every scholar at Alma falls in love with reading. In addition, data from last year’s scholar survey tells us that we still have a long way to go in making our classrooms as engaging as they can be. As experienced teachers, we’re working together and with colleagues beyond Alma to find more ways to turn the ownership of our classroom routines over to our scholars. The more they lead, the more our scholars will be invested in their own learning.

We teach because we believe in the potential of each child. We believe that the children of New Bedford can achieve at the same levels as children in any city. Don’t let anyone tell you that New Bedford kids, even those with significant challenges at home, can’t achieve at the same high levels as kids in the suburbs. Our crew, along with the teachers at several other New Bedford public schools, works hard every day to make sure that New Bedford kids get an education that is second to none. We are proud to be a part of the movement to improve education opportunities in the Southcoast.

Margaret Carvalho, is a fourth grade math teacher and math curriculum chair; Justin Edwards, is a fifth grade math teacher and middle school academic dean; and Brittney Sousa, is a seventh grade humanities teacher and middle school academic dean at Alma del Mar Charter School.

This column originally appeared on

Posted in Alma Profiles, Team

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