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Excel Academy at the Head of the Class

For the third consecutive year, Excel Academy Charter School ranks in the top 5 percent of middle schools statewide as measured by the 2010 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Excel Academy students earned an overall 95 percent Advanced/Proficient rate on the English MCAS exam and 90 percent Advanced/Proficient rate on the math exam. One hundred percent of Excel students passed the English MCAS assessment.

Excel students also performed very well on the Science and Technology exam, which was recently included alongside English and math as a passing requirement for high school graduation. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, statewide performance in English and math has made steady progress, while performance in science has continued to lag, particularly for Latino students. One hundred percent of Excel Academy students passed the Science MCAS exam, and 77 percent of Latino students enrolled at Excel who took the science exam scored Advanced/Proficient. Comparatively, only 19 percent of Latino students in the state who took the same exams performed at this level.

"Latino students are disproportionally affected by the "Achievement Gap" in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects," states Antonio de le Serna, President of the Greater Boston Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists. "Despite these odds, Excel Academy is demonstrating that Latino youth can be highly competitive in STEM subjects. These are critical results given that Latinos are severely under-represented in STEM fields within Massachusetts' world-renowned universities and our high-tech workforce."

Excel's science curriculum is designed to prepare students for the pursuit of scientific excellence in high school, college and beyond. According to Katie Lewkowicz, Chair of the Science Department at Excel, "We foster a hunger for scientific knowledge through science debates, hands-on experiments, environmental investigations and research projects. Our students' notable results on the 2010 science MCAS exams show that these efforts are paying off and that our students can absorb concepts very quickly when they are excited about the material."

During the 2009-10 school year, Excel Academy served 210 students predominantly from the historically underserved neighborhoods of East Boston and Chelsea. Today's student body is 67 percent Latino and 69 percent low-income. More than half of students report speaking a language other than English in the home, and 15 percent of students were receiving Special Education services at the time of testing. Key subgroups of students at Excel Academy scored remarkably well on the English exam, with 93 percent of Latino students, 94 percent of low-income students, and 71 percent of Special Education students scoring Advanced/Proficient. Comparatively, only 43 percent of Latino students, 47 percent of low-income students, and 28 percent of Special Education students scored Advanced/Proficient on the English exam statewide.

Principal Komal Bhasin speaks of the Achievement Gap, the disparity in performance between minority, low-income students and their more affluent Caucasian peers, as a driver of Excel Academy's work. "The Achievement Gap is the single greatest civil right issue of our generation. We are extremely proud of the outstanding results of our students, but know that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done to close the Achievement Gap," said Bhasin.

Excel Academy is the only public charter middle school in East Boston. Students are admitted through an open lottery system and commit to an extended school day (nearly eight hours) and extended school year. Excel offers its students a rigorous