Plummeting math performance at Amherst Regional High School

The Data Don’t Lie

ARHS MCAS Math Scores Plunged When ARHS Stopped Allowing Students to Learn Math and Forced Them to Do “IMP”

(Posted by Benjamin Bailey December 10, 2018)

There is only one explanation for these data: students do not learn Math from “doing IMP”. They learn Math from taking Math classes. ARHS does not allow students to take Math classes.

We now know without a doubt that “IMP” has been a disastrously failed experiment and that it is past time to end it.


The chart below (blue line) shows how ARHS MCAS Math scores have plunged since 2015. In 2015, 72% of ARHS students scored “Advanced” on the MCAS math. That MCAS was given in Spring of 2015. The ARHS students taking the 2015 MCAS had been allowed to learn Math in 9th grade and 10th grade. It was only in Fall 2015 that students were not allowed to learn Math but were forced to do “IMP.” The ARHS sophomores who took MCAS in Spring of 2016 had been allowed to learn Math in 9th grade but were not allowed to in 10th grade. Only 69% of ARHS students scored at the “Advanced” level. In Spring 2017, ARHS student had not been allowed to study any Math at the high school. Only 65% of students scored at the “Advanced” level. In 2018, only 61% scored at the “Advanced” level.

Percent of students scoring “Advanced” on MCAS Math
ARHS Math MCAS72696561
ARHS Reading MCAS60616168
Longmeadow Math MCAS72827575
State of MA Math MCAS5351


Maybe the MCAS Math got harder each year? Looking at Longmeadow High School’s performance shows that it did not. Before ARHS students were forced to do IMP instead of learning Math, ARHS and Longmeadow both had 72% of students score “Advanced” on MCAS. Longmeadow actually IMPROVED in their math scores over this time, with 75% of students scoring “Advanced” during the last 2 years.


State-level data for MCAS Math are not available for 2015 and 2016 (because of PARCC test piloting), but the state-level data for 2014, 2017, and 2018 show performance to be flat (53%, 53%, 51% respectively, achieving proficient or better). The Longmeadow and State-level show that the Math MCAS did NOT get harder from 2015 to 2018. ARHS scores declined because of “IMP”.


Maybe ARHS students were just not as smart after 2015? The red line in the graph shows that this is not the case. ARHS Reading MCAS scores have gone UP while Math scores have plunged. In other words, students performed better and better as one moves from 2015 MCAS Reading scores to 2018 MCAS Reading scores. The MCAS Math scores declined because “IMP” is a disastrous failure for teaching or learning Math.


Direct Financial Costs to Families and the District


The plunge in MCAS Math scores is taking tens of thousands of dollars out of district families’ pockets because of a loss of Stanley Z. Koplik scholarships. These scholarships require at least one score of “Advanced” on 10th grade MCAS. Since ARHS stopped teaching Math, many fewer students score “Advanced” on at least one 10th grade MCAS (at least 20 fewer scored “Advanced” on the Math section in 2018). These scholarships give a tuition waver at Massachusetts public colleges and universities of up to $1,714 per year, i.e., up to $6,856 per student across the 4 years of undergraduate education.


These costs to district families are in addition, of course, to the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars of aggregate losses to families because of the loss of merit aid for students resulting from their weaker Math PSAT and SAT scores (see other post on the plunge in PSAT scores).


And of course, the district is losing at least tens of thousands of dollars—likely hundreds of thousands of dollars a year—because the high school stopped teaching math. Families are voting with their feet and having their children attend private school or charter schools.


This plunge in MCAS Math scores will not result in a reduction in John and Abigail Adams Scholarships for ARHS students. Although this scholarship requires a score of Advanced on 10th grade English or Math—and ARHS has seen a large drop in students scoring Advanced in Math—the scholarship is limited to the top 25% of scorers in the district, and more than 25% of ARHS students continue to score Advanced on both tests.

$60,000 just walked out the door of the Amherst Regional Public School district

(Posted by Benjamin Bailey on November 21, 2018)

On Monday, November 19, there was a meeting of about 14 parents and 4 high school students to discuss grades 6-12 math curriculum with an outside consultant. The meeting was arranged by ARPS curriculum coordinator Tim Sheehan. Of the roughly 9 parents who spoke, 8 parents (and the 4 students) described the obvious failures of IMP, focusing on the central problem: students are not learning any math in IMP. This is not a subjective opinion—math scores have plunged since IMP was imposed on all students and Math was banished from the high school in 2015 (see post, below).


Why did $60,000 walk out the door at the end of the meeting? Four parents were there to learn about the math curriculum at the school in order to make a decision about whether to send their children to school outside of ARHS. One parent, a Chinese immigrant, said that his two high school students would either attend ARHS or the Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter School next year. When the math consultant asked him what he thought about the math curriculum, he simply held up a graph that illustrated the plunging math achievement and said something to the effect of, “This is what I think.” You can be sure that his two children will be at the Chinese Charter School next year, costing ARHS tens of thousands of dollars each year. (If you know the exact amounts of money that the district loses when students a) attend the Chinese Charter School, or b) attend a private school, please email me at [email protected], and I will make the dollar amounts here accurate.)


The clear consensus at this meeting was that IMP was a dismally failed experiment. If the three other parents who are school shopping each have two kids and send them all to the Chinese Charter School, the costs will be over $100,000 per year. Let’s hope they opt for an area private school, limiting the losses to the district to tens of thousands of dollars per year.


After the meeting, I spoke with one of the parents who was school shopping and optimistically suggested that the problem could be immediately solved: ARHS could start teaching Math again. She was dismissive, saying that people and institutions get entrenched in positions, even when those positions are ruinous to the institutions themselves.


So will Miki Gromacki, Mike Morris, and the School Committee stand by as people vote with their feet and leave the district, hemorrhaging the money that we need to run our schools?



What Amherst Regional High School Wants to Hide from You
(posted Nov 18, 2018 by Benjamin Bailey)

Math performance at the high school has plummeted since they stopped teaching Math and began teaching IMP in Fall 2015.

Beginning in Fall 2015, ARHS began forcing all students to take IMP rather than Math. Before this time, parents and students could choose between taking Math and IMP, and the vast majority of students and family chose to study Math. Despite this, ARHS  IMP imposed on all students, starting with freshmen and sophomores in 2015.

The chart below shows how student performance on the math PSAT has declined each year since IMP was forced on students.

Before IMP, about 80% of ARHS students scored well enough on the PSAT to predict that they were likely to be successful in a freshman college math class. By 2017, the cohort of ARHS students taking the PSAT had had no Math in high school—they had only had IMP—and only 2/3 of them scored well enough to predict that they could succeed in a freshman college math class.


College readiness benchmark in MATH across 3 years on PSAT, 2015-2017

Comparison of ARHS, MA, and National MATH

It’s important to note that this was not a general decline in academic performance by ARHS students. The graph below shows ARHS student performance on the PSAT in Reading. As you can see from the chart, Reading scores stayed level at ARHS across these years. It is only Math performance that plummeted, and it is only at ARHS that it plummeted—math performance stayed even at schools across the state and across the country.

College readiness benchmark in READNG across 3 years on PSAT, 2015-2017

Comparison of ARHS, MA, and National READING


This general decline in math performance was accompanied in Fall 2018 by the shocking announcement that only 10 ARHS students had been honored as National Merit Commended or Semifinalist scholars based on the 2017 PSAT. (10 ARHS student who are currently seniors scored in the top 3-4% on the PSAT, which they took during their junior year.)

This number 10 is shocking, because on the 2016 PSAT, the number of students achieving this National Merit level of performance was 22. The students who are seniors this year were never given the chance to take classes in Math. They were only allowed to take IMP. Most of the high performing students who took the 2016 PSAT, in contrast, had never been forced to take IMP. Instead, they had learned Math. Over the six years before the 2017 PSAT–the 2017 PSAT juniors were the first cohort that was not allowed to learn Math–ARHS had averaged 22.5 students achieving Commended or Semi-Finalist status.


What does this mean?

  • This means that fewer and fewer of our children will be able to succeed and get jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, which are the most lucrative and fastest growing employers in the US.
  • It means our children are at a stark disadvantage in college admissions compared to students from other schools.
  • It means our children will lose out on tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships in which PSAT and SAT scores are an important criterion.
  • It means that families will choose not to live in Amherst as it is no longer a high performing district in the way it was just a few years ago.
  • It means that the district will see increased outflow of students to private schools and the Chinese Charter School, costing the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Is this solvable?

Yes, it is immediately solvable. ALL of the teachers at ARHS know how to teach Math. They were trained to teach math. The high school could immediately drop IMP (or limit it to the 15%-20% of students and families who might choose it) and begin teaching Math again. This would immediately reverse the decline in math performance at the high school, and our children could once again learn math and be prepared to succeed in math, science, and technical fields at ARHS, college, and in careers.


What can you do?

You can call or email the following people, all of whom are in a position to reverse this on-going disaster. Tell them that you want the high school to teach Math. Tell them that you are angry that your children are no longer learning math. Tell them that the data don’t lie.

School Committee: [email protected]

Superintendent Mike Morris: [email protected] 362-1823

ARHS Principal Miki Gromacki: [email protected] 362-1700

Head of HS Math Dept Jane Mudie: [email protected] 362-1758


PSAT Score Date from ARHS–the key column is “% Met Math” (it is the only datum that disaggregates math performance from overall performance; it also shows how state and national scores stay stable while they plummet in Amherst)




About me

I am the father of a current ARHS sophomore and 2 ARHS graduates. I am a professor at UMass, and I care too deeply about teaching and learning to stay silent.

Benjamin Bailey