MCAS scores slowly going in right direction post-COVID-19

BOSTON — The slide is over. Recovery is underway. More students are scoring well on MCAS.

That was the promising picture painted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as it released MCAS results from the 2022-2023 academic year.

“I think what you’ve heard across the country is, the slide is continuing,” said DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. “In Massachusetts, what it seems we can say is that the slide has stopped.”

For now, anyway. But now comes the hard part: rebuilding performance to match that of 2019, before Covid upended the educational system.

“I think any gains are positive,” Riley said. “But I think there’s a lot of work to do. I think we’ve got to acknowledge that and get back to work.”

That work involves chipping away at an achievement gap that is narrowing only very slowly. High performance on MCAS tests, while up, is still significantly lower than before the pandemic -- 3 to 12% lower in Language Arts, 5-11% in Math and 5-7% in Science.

Riley said tools that seem to be working include intensive tutoring and social and emotional support.

Money would also seem to help. DESE named 66 schools in the Commonwealth as Schools of Recognition -- based on exceptional performance this past academic year. The list includes high schools in some of the state’s most affluent towns -- including Lexington, Wellesley, Cohasset, Sharon and Newton -- though schools in lower-income communities, such as Springfield and Lawrence, also made the list.

Deb McCarthy, a long-time elementary school teacher, currently serving as vice-president of the state’s largest teacher’s union -- the Massachusetts Teachers Association -- is leading a campaign to end passing MCAS as a high school graduation requirement. The proposal will be on the 2024 state ballot if supporters can collect 75,000 signatures.

“I don’t think that a one-time test score measures the diversity of intelligence that I saw for 25 years,” McCarthy said. “The harm is in all the things that we’re not allowed to teach. The harm is about a curriculum that is focused on the skill set of taking a test.”

McCarthy said MCAS has taken the joy out of teaching and learning.

“We are not facilitators of a high-stakes test score,” she said. “We are advocating for performance-based assessment.”

McCarthy said those assessments would cover things MCAS cannot -- including oral communication skills, the ability to use knowledge creatively and the ability to understand civics.

“I would strongly suggest that we have a crisis in education,” McCarthy said. “Educators are demoralized, not burned out.”

But Riley said MCAS may be more important than ever with the pandemic somewhat at bay.

“I think MCAS is an important assessment that families need now more than ever to see how our kids are catching up,” he said. “I think there are tweaks that need to be made to the program and we really need to look into that in a deep way.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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