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Staff Writer

TOWNSEND — Dr. Deborah Brady jokes that Massachusetts is “the smartest state” thanks to Bay State students ranking tops overall on the National Assessment for Educational Progress testing on a yearly basis. If Massachusetts is the smartest state, however, then North Middlesex is one of the smartest districts for the same reason — test scores.

For the second straight year, North Middlesex’ average score for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was greater than the state average in nearly every category of the test’s Comprehensive Performance Index (CPI).

The CPI score represents the percentage of students, in a given grade and category, that are testing at the proficient or above level, as determined by the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as “No Child Left Behind.” The goal is to have 100 percent of the students in Massachusetts, in every school and in every category and subgroup, meet or exceed that level by 2014. This only pertains to grades 3-8 however; 10th grade students must still achieve the required passing score to be eligible to graduate from high school.

There are two categories — English (or reading, for third grade) and mathematics, for all grades except fifth and eighth grades, which are also tested on science. The 2007 scores break down categorically as follows, with all scores given for the state, then the district:

English Mathematics Science

Grade 3 83.8/91.6 80.3/88.5

Grade 4 81.2/80.5 77.0/74.2

Grade 5 84.6/89.6 75.6/79.5 78.9/84.8

Grade 6 86.4/91.7 75.5/80.6

Grade 7 86.9/91.2 70.4/76.4

Grade 8 89.5/94.2 70.2/78.2 65.9/76.0

Grade 10 87.9/94.6 85.0/92.1

The fourth-grade scores are running a bit below the state average and Brady, the district superintendent, admitted there is some work to be done. But, overall, she is very encouraged and very excited.

“The numbers are so high right now; we’ve done quite well as a district,” Brady said. “We’ve done quite well as a state!”

The MCAS is considered by many in the education field to be among the most challenging state-administered assessment tests in the country; the English test template is used as a model for many other state tests as well as for the national test.

Though Brady has her doubts about the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014, she pointed to the scores, which have been increasing on a yearly basis since 2001, as an indicator that North Middlesex is getting closer.

“That’s awesome; it’s absolutely increased,” she said. “That’s how close we are to 100 percent!”

There is one small blemish on the record right now, and that is the low-income subgroup in Hawthorne Brook Middle School. The scores for that subgroup have placed a “School in Need of Improvement” designation on the school, but the district is hard at work making sure that tag will be lifted next year thanks to vastly improved test scores.

Two other district schools, Squannacook Elementary and Nissitissit Middle School, were flagged last year and both were able to shake the label in 2007, so Brady is confident that Hawthorne Brook will not have that concern next year.

On a broader scale, Brady said the district is working toward continued improvement on the scores as 2014 draws closer. One area that has raised some concern is how well writing concepts are being taught and understood by students.

Detailed analyses of test scores showed that students’ understanding in areas of content, voice, sentence structure, vocabulary and organization were weak when compared to spelling and grammatical results.

To remedy this “weakness,” 55 district teachers took an in-house graduate-level course on writing method this year; next year, the class will be offered to all elementary school teachers.

The other area of interest is that the CPI score does not differentiate between those students taking advanced courses and those who do not. As a result, the district hopes to begin moving more students into advanced courses in the coming years.

Whatever the case, it is difficult not to notice how much greater North Middlesex scores are as a whole in most cases. This suggests that the steps the district committee has already taken are paying dividends.

Massachusetts might be the “smartest state,” as Brady contends, but even if it isn’t, it is impossible to deny that North Middlesex students are among the most proficient in the state based on their scores in one of the most challenging state tests in the country.

The numbers tell the story.