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New study highlights at-risk students' perspectives of MCAS remediation programs

The Seizing the Day report, recently released by Mass Insight Education, presents the results of more than 600 surveys and 134 interviews conducted last spring with at-risk high school students from the Boston, Springfield, and Worcester Public Schools.

Based on field research conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute, the report presents the first large-scale set of perspectives on MCAS from the vantage point of those it affects most - the students. Seizing the Day, and a companion report, Beyond Tests and Good Intentions (a comprehensive inventory of state-funded academic support services in Boston, Springfield, and Worcester), are the first two reports resulting from the Mass Insight Education's Keep the Promise initiative, a three-year longitudinal research project supported by lead funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The UMass Donahue Institute's Research and Evaluation Group has worked collaboratively with Mass Insight Education to conduct the field research, data analysis, and reporting of results found in these reports.

According to key findings from Seizing the Day: 

  • Eighty-two percent of students completing the survey said they had taken advantage of extra help opportunities in an effort to pass the exam. In 2002, a study of similar students showed that just 46% of juniors were getting the extra help.
  • Sixty-five percent of students completing the survey credited extra-help classes in helping them pass the test. An even higher amount, 78%, said they would recommend the extra-help classes for other at-risk students.
  • After receiving their first MCAS scores, 47% of the students completing the survey said they began trying harder in school, and nearly a quarter indicated they were doing more homework and cutting fewer classes.
  • Only 5% of respondents said that they actually lowered their effort in school after failing MCAS for the first time.

"This study proves that education reform and the hard work of educators in these three cities are making a genuine difference in the lives of our students," said Commissioner of Education David Driscoll. "The reasons for the success of so many students in the Classes of 2003 and 2004 are no mystery. It's all documented right here."

Over the next two years, the Donahue Institute and Mass Insight Education will continue collecting pertinent data, including: follow-up interviews with students each year, even beyond high school; surveys with hundreds of at-risk students; and focus groups with classroom teachers and school leaders. Simultaneously, in-depth studies of six high schools within Boston, Springfield, and Worcester will take place to fully explore and uncover the effectiveness of remediation strategies employed by these schools to help at-risk students obtain the skills necessary to pass MCAS.

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