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GROTON — Following a presentation on the latest state Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System results by school administrators last week, members of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee questioned whether taxpayers were getting their money’s worth.

The question was an important one as the School Committee heads into yet another difficult budgetary year in which the economy is expected to remain sluggish and funding from the state may be lower than in past years.

In a desperate bid to seek out new sources of revenue for cash-strapped schools, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has sought to access federal dollars with the Race To The Top program and after an initial failed attempt, succeeded in having Massachusetts accepted into the program.

But critics contend that in his reckless pursuit of cash, Patrick has abandoned education reform, which has proven to be one of the most successful programs in the nation lifting the state into the top ranks of educational achievement.

To measure progress among the state’s student population, MCAS testing has been mandated by the state’s Department of Education to ensure that teaching standards conform to the requirements of education reform.

Although the governor insists that MCAS and education reform will not be endangered as a result of being accepted into RTTT, to qualify for the federal program the state had to submit a new education plan. It is unclear how that new plan will effect the requirements of education reform.

Many supporters of education reform believe that the days of MCAS testing are numbered.

Last week the principals of Swallow Union and Florence Roche Elementary schools, the middle school and high school presented the MCAS scoring results for 2010 for each of their schools.

“We’re a very strong district here,” said Florence Roche Principal Ruthann Goguen following the presentation.

For the 2010 school year, students in grades 3-8 and 10 were tested in math, English, and the biological sciences.

In a series of charts and other data presented to the School Committee at its Oct. 6 meeting, members were given to understand that though there was some movement from the “needs improvement” into the “proficient” category in a number of testing areas, there seemed very little movement from the “warning-failing” category in many others.

The number of students represented in the failing category were minuscule compared with the overwhelming number of their peers in the advanced and proficient categories in English and to a lesser extent, in math. But in some areas, there appeared to be an infinitesimal increase in the number of failing students.

Nevertheless, there was much to boast about in the latest testing results, a fact noted by Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola.

“Our scores are very good,” said Mastrocola as he warned committee members that MCAS represented only “one small piece” of measuring student achievement. “Our teachers are working very hard and should be congratulated.”

However, when asked by committee member Berta Erickson what the district’s standing was compared to other schools in the commonwealth, Mastrocola was unable to say.

“Then how do we know we’re getting our money’s worth?” Committee member Jon Sjoberg wanted to know.

“There is a return on our investment,” replied Mastrocola. “But the MCAS tests are not the best way to judge.”

Eschewing comparison with other school districts, Committee Chairman James Frey noted that Groton-Dunstable has done “very well” when scores are compared to the amount of money it spends on each student.

“If we don’t continue to invest in this very good organization, we may very well see backsliding in our MCAS scores,” said Frey.

The amount of funding for the district will be increasingly on school officials’ minds as the formulation process for the fiscal 2012 budget begins. Already, Gerald Martin, the district’s director of business and finance, reported at last week’s meeting that he and the superintendent have begun discussing a timeline for the formulation process and future meetings with Groton and Dunstable town officials on the subject.

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