Eighty-two percent of Massachusetts schools fell short this year of federal requirements to boost student scores on MCAS exams, up sharply from 67 percent last year, according to new test results.

Eighty-two percent of Massachusetts schools fell short this year of federal requirements to boost student scores on MCAS exams, up sharply from 67 percent last year, according to new test results.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act sets benchmarks for “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), or annual improvements on test scores.

Some Bay State educators question if the requirements are ultimately achievable or reasonable. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said the state may apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements.

“Massachusetts has the highest standards in the country,” said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Mass. Association of School Committees. “We have the highest performing schools, and AYP is virtually universally regarded as a very bad measure for determining progress in student achievement.”

In announcing detailed district and school results on MCAS exams students took last spring, Massachusetts leaders focused mainly on improvements in MCAS scores at many of 35 schools the state designated as underperforming. Under a 2010 law, the state identified these schools and has worked to overhaul them and provide extra support. 

At 22 such schools, the number of students who scored proficient or higher on English and math MCAS exams grew by 5 percentage points or better since last year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said.

Chester said the results show what can be accomplished by focusing on schools that truly are failing, as opposed to the vast majority that did not meet AYP requirements. 

“If you don’t achieve that focus and that intense kind of strategy development, if you try to be all things to all of your schools, you’re just not going to be able to turn these places around," he said.

Mitchell joined Gov. Deval Patrick in announcing the improvements at a Lowell elementary school that made among the greatest increases in the state.

“We certainly need to see this continue into future years, but nonetheless, these schools demonstrate that low performance is not preordained," Mitchell said afterward.

To see local MCAS results, look up your district or school here and click the "Assessment" tab. Look up whether a school or district met AYP here.

The state also recognized 127 “Commendation” schools that narrowed performance gaps among high-need students over a two-year period, showed MCAS gains or dropped their  federal “needs improvement” status by meeting benchmarks two years in a row.

Still, the growing number of schools falling short of No Child Left Behind expectations raises broader questions about the country’s education policies.

Altogether, 1,404 schools and 316 districts did not meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks. That’s 263 more schools and 38 additional districts than in 2010. 

Sixty-four percent of Bay State schools – 1,089, up from 971 last year – did not meet federal standards two years in a row, meaning they are deemed in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring.

Koocher called federal adequate yearly progress requirements, or AYP, a “fraud" meant to demonize public schools and promote charter schools. The expectations are “mathematically impossible,” he said.

He compared designating many schools that do not maintain the same level of progress every year to “punishing a .350 hitter for hitting .348 the following year.”

President Obama announced in September that states could apply to opt out. Chester said the state is eyeing that option.

"We have some outstanding performance going on with our schools and districts, second to none in the nation," Chester said. "(AYP) does not do a good job of distinguishing between schools that we shouldn’t be worried about and schools that we should be worried about.”

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Mass. Association of School Superintendents, said federal benchmarks clearly are not a good measure of success when schools that have high SAT scores and send many students to prestigious colleges are considered to be falling short.

“AYP kind of loses its luster when it fails to reflect some of the other realities that people really use as more reliable indicators," Scott said.

Overall, students statewide improved on eight out of 17 MCAS exams given in grades 3-8 and 10. Earlier in September, state education leaders highlighted improvements that fifth and 10th graders showed overall.

The percentage of fifth graders who scored proficient or better on the English and math exams increased four points since last year. Tenth graders showed gains of six percentage points on their English exam.

Eighty-seven percent of sophomores also met the state’s minimum testing requirements to earn a high school diploma, up from 83 percent two years ago, the state said.

The number of students scoring proficient or better in grades 5, 7, 8 and 10 grew one to six percentage points on English exams this year. Results on English tests dipped two percentage points for third graders and a single point for grades 4 and 6.

The number of students in grades 3, 5 and 8 who scored proficient or better on math tests grew one to four percentage points, the state said.

African American and Latino students narrowed their performance gap with white students, particularly on English tests in grades 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10.

(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or driley@wickedlocal.com.)