For Release
Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Contact: Frank Conte
Director of Communications


New Rating System Assesses School MCAS Performance

In a study released today, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University employs a new rating system for assessing the performance of Massachusetts public schools. The BHI study, Promoting Good Schools Through Wise Spending, shows that, by taking policy inputs (such as spending per pupil or class size), past test scores and socioeconomic factors into account, it is possible to predict school performance with a high level of accuracy.

By comparing actual with predicted school performance, BHI identified school districts that did an especially good (or poor) job of teaching, given past test scores and the socioeconomic character of the communities in which they operate.

The BHI study follows yesterday's release of a Massachusetts Department of Education rating system that attempts to assess the improvement of Massachusetts schools over the last two years.

The DOE rating system is based on an assessment of the extent to which schools improved their performance on MCAS tests over the period 1998 to 2000. By applying its own predetermined judgment of what constitutes “improved” performance, DOE failed to provide a useful method of determining how good a job schools did in preparing their students for the MCAS tests.

Thus, there are many instances in which schools identified by DOE as having “Failed to Meet” their performance standards are, in fact, doing a good job of teaching students. Said David Tuerck, BHI executive director, “The only way to rate schools is to find those that do the best job of teaching, given the socioeconomic conditions of the communities in which they operate. That is what our study sets out to do.”

A good example is the Hadley school district. According to the DOE rating system, Hadley 10th graders “Failed” to meet its performance standards. According to the BHI study, however, Hadley 10th graders ranked 3d out of 220 school districts. DOE gave “Failing” grades to other school districts that similarly received high rankings from BHI. These include Chelsea 4th graders, Central Berkshire 8th graders and Ware 10th graders.

The study also reached several findings concerning the state's success at improving school performance under the $5.6 billion Education Reform Act of 1993. Specifically, it found that Massachusetts cannot expect

to improve the performance of its schools by increasing education spending, even to the end of reducing class size. Increased spending, in and of itself, does little good, and smaller classes help only for certain schools. What Massachusetts should do is spend existing funds more wisely – shifting funds from schools that do not benefit from smaller classes to schools that do.

Other Findings

  • Smaller classes improve the performance only of schools that have a record of poor performance. Smaller classes do not improve – and, in some instances, worsen – the performance of schools that have a record of good performance.
  • Lower student-teacher ratios, which serve as a proxy for class size, helped some schools but not others. While reducing student-teacher ratios improved the performance, at the 4th and 10th grade level, of historically low-performing schools, doing so had no effect on performance, at the 4th grade level, of historically high-performing schools. Lower student-teacher ratios worsened performance, at the 8th and 10th grade levels, of high-performing schools.
  • School performance varies inversely with the number of students per computer for older students. We found that increases in the number of computers per student (reductions in the number of students per computer) improved school performance for 8th and 10th graders but had no effect on school performance for 4th graders.
  • There is some evidence that charter schools spur district schools to do better. The performance of district-school 4th graders in Mathematics and Science improved with the percentage of students in charter schools. There is no similar effect, however, for 8th and 10th graders.
  • The presence of students from the METCO program has, for the most part, had no effect on the performance of host schools.

The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic research organization. The Executive Summary of Promoting Good Schools Through Wise Spending and school rankings are available by clicking here PDF Format PDF Icon. Call BHI at 617-573-8750 for a copy of the full study.


Posted: 1/01/01
Revised format on
02-Jul-2003 3:11 PM
Webmaster: Frank Conte

2001-2002 Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy Research at Suffolk University, All Rights Reserved.