MCAS pass rate dips in Hudson
Boston Globe
October 6, 2005

By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent

A dip in the MCAS passing rate for Hudson High School 10th-graders is being attributed to an influx of immigrants and a change in state education rules.

Officials say the test-score drop is a warning sign but not a reason to change the way children are taught, including those who entered the system not speaking any English.

On the other end of the spectrum, results of May's tests showed a jump in the percentage of students who scored advanced in math to 45 percent, up from 38 percent the year before. English went up slightly to 26 percent, up from 24 percent. In all, 182 students took the test.

Students must pass the MCAS math and English language arts exams to graduate. The percentage of students who passed math was 91 in 2005; 94 in 2004; and 83 in 2003. The English passing rate was 94 in 2005; 95 in 2004; and 91 in 2003.

''We have a very strong language program and math program at the high school," said School Committee chairman Christopher Yates. ''We are a middle- and upper-class town that has graduated every child except for one since this requirement went in."

One Hudson school administrator believes the increase in the math failure rate stems from a recent law that eliminated bilingual programs to help non-English-speaking students learn their new language. Instead, the law replaced bilingual education with immersion programs, which place the immigrant students in classes taught solely in English.

The state recently required those students to take the 10th-grade MCAS tests, said Dennis Frias, the Hudson schools' coordinator of immersion programs.

''It's very, very illogical and an unfair situation to make students take an evaluation test in a language they're still not familiar with," he said.

The greater dip in math could be explained by the fact that the immigrant students get a year's grace in the school system without having to take the English test, while they are required to take the math test no matter how long they have been in the country, Frias said.

Those who do not pass the tests in 10th grade will get another crack at it the following year.

Frias said 15 new non-English-speaking students entered the Hudson system in 2004 and 2005. Eight of them spoke only Spanish -- five from Guatemala and one each from Mexico, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. Joining them were six Portuguese speakers and one Chinese speaker, none of whom had English-language skills, he said.

Several of these students had little formal education and were illiterate in their own language, according to high school principal John Stapelfeld.

''In one or two instances, the schools in their particular part of the country only went to third or fourth grade," Stapelfeld said. ''They did not have the opportunity to really get beyond addition and subtraction and very basic language skills -- like write their name -- so they could take care of any official business they might have to do, or go to the store; nothing beyond the skills they would need in day-to-day life."

Stapelfeld pointed out that exacerbating their lack of fundamental skills was the stigma of being behind classmates in America. ''Socially, there's a challenge," he said.

Stapelfeld believes the requirement for these new immigrants to take the 10th-grade tests could explain the slide in scores, although as of last week, he had not had the chance to analyze the results closely.

Stapelfeld said Hudson has created a coaching program in which fellow students help those who do not speak English. ''It needs to be done with care," Stapelfeld said. ''If by chance the [immigrant] student is really affected by the fact that a lot of people know he can't read or write, then we don't want them to feel they can't come to school, because then we'll have absolutely no chance. We've lost them."

To boost the students' self-esteem, the school tries to place the non-English-speaking students in classes where ''they have a chance to be successful," Stapelfeld said, such as art, drama, or chorus.

The school is also developing an outreach program to the students' homes to encourage parents or caregivers to learn and practice English.

''We sort of learned that it's very, very challenging if we're trying to teach students English, and they go home and speak Spanish or Portuguese for six hours," Stapelfeld said.

Connie Paige can be reached at