It's one thing to have and say that your school district is great.
It's another when the students prove it.
The recently released 2011 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results show that Belmont students have among the best exam scores for your average, everyday school system in the state and country.
Take, for instance, Belmont High School's 10th graders whose scores in the English Language Arts portion of the annual test ranks them as the top high school in the state last year.
The same group of students were ranked seventh in math and eighth in science compared to the nearly 360 high schools in Massachusetts.
In the three test categories, Belmont is either the first or second open enrollment high school – districts where all children of residents are accepted – among speciality charter and test-acceptance high schools which heavily-restrict who can attend.
"We are very proud of what was achieved," said Belmont's Assistant Superintendent Janice Darius, as the district continues working towards 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014.
"MCAS is one measure of how we are teaching our students and these scores say that we're doing very well," she said.
"We have the right cirriculum, educators, leaders and plan to make this possible," said Darius.
The ranking compiled by the Boston Globe takes the percentage of Belmont students who scored either "Advanced" or "Proficient" in the MCAS test and comparing that number for each subject and grade with schools across the state.
In English Langage for example, three of four Belmont High School 10th grade students scored the highest rank, proficient, compared with approximately 33 percent statewide.
In math, more than four of every five students scored at the top level as opposed to 45 percent of 10th graders statewide.
And those same high rankings were replicated in the town's four elementary schools and at the Chenery Middle School. Repeatedly, English scores were well within the top 10 percent compared with the approximately 950 elementary schools statewide.
By fourth grade, the four elementary schools rank 11th in English and 34th in math statewide.
District in first 20
And sixth graders – students midway through their Belmont education – ranked 5th in English and 19th in math of the 550 schools in Massachusetts.
Overall, the district's kindergarten students to 12th graders tested 16th in a state that only trails Connecticut in education proficiency and test scores in the United States.
Yet Darius said that despite the strong test scores and high achievement by the entire district, there is both room for improvement – however slight – and a realization for the community that without adequte financial and town support, future test scores could quickly trend downward.
Darius said that within the great scores, some subgroups of students at the Chenery Middle School and the Butler Elementary School missed performance target scores set by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
Yet Darius said that unlike schools and groups in other districts where missed benchmarks demonstrate students not learning, in the case of the Butler, the missed results – "a statistically insignificant drop from where they were the previous year," said Darius – are still extremely high; the school's students MCAS results demonstrated that more than 90 percent of students were "Advanced" or "Proficient."
"We can do better and we will drill into the data to find where we need to concentrate our efforts but I am not in the least bit alarmed at the scores," said Darius.
It was the NCLB's one-size-fits-all system that placed high-achieving schools such as the Butler on warning lists that prompted the Obama Administration this week to waive some of the more problematic and burdensome regulatory requirements of the act.
Yet Belmont schools could find themselves facing the prospect of falling test scores if the community chooses not to fully fund coming school budgets, said Darius.
She points to the district's quality assurance structure in which veteran administrators and educators monitor and assist teachers, advising them on best practices and on improving skills.
"Take that that one piece away and I can tell you that we will have a difficult time maintaining our high standards," said Darius.