School districts reported record numbers during pandemic

The pandemic has drastically impacted the last three school years, but looking at some of the data schools reported, you may not be able to tell.

Boston 25 News spent hours combing through the Department of Education data and found the state and many school districts had some of the best numbers they’ve ever had during the pandemic.

As this school year comes to a close, the state is hoping to continue some of the record-breaking numbers:

89.8% graduation rates

1.5% dropout rates

0.7% of students disciplined

The numbers — striking in the state’s two largest districts Boston and Worcester.

“I don’t find them surprising, particularly because there was such a concerted effort to make sure that all of the support and resources that students would have when they were attending school in person were in place throughout remote learning,” said Senior Director of Opportunity Youth at Boston Public Schools Brian Marques.

With many students quarantined, the state did see an obvious drop in attendance, but many districts were able to keep their numbers relatively stable. In some cases, like Worcester for example, the attendance even went up in the 2020-21 school year.

“Students who were sick, whether they were positive, whether they were quarantining or exposed or actually ill could still participate in school,” said Worcester Public Schools Manager of Social-Emotional Learning Maura Mahoney. “They could attend remotely.”

But students and parents we spoke to tell us attendance doesn’t always mean engagement

“I wouldn’t be surprised because it’s so much easier to just click on your phone and be like I went to school on my phone but I’m still driving around hanging out with my friends,” said high school senior James Holland. “So I feel like it’s a lot easier to go to class. You could just turn the camera off and stuff and sleep through even if you were there. I probably did it a couple of times myself.”

“Kids got away with murder. Kids loved it, they loved it,” said parent Trevor Farrell. “Particularly kids who the parents had to go, ‘I’m trusting you Johnny that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.’ ‘Yeah, mom.’ Really. Come on. You assume they’re engaging when they’re attending.”

While engagement is hard to measure, the efforts school districts made are not. They tell us they went above and beyond to provide students with their in-and-out of school needs.

“As a district, we’ve done a lot of work on the need to build relationships understanding that relationships lead to engagement which leads to academic success,” said Mahoney.

As for the teachers’ take on the stats, the Boston Teachers Union tells us it applauds the numbers but fears residual impacts.

“Even pre-pandemic I think we were always working on increasing attendance and graduation rates and the pandemic has certainly made it more difficult,” said President of Boston Teachers Union Jessica Tang. ‘Educators continue to rise to the occasion but certainly, the cost is that they are burning both ends of the candle. I think Morale is certainly low. I think that is also what’s contributing to the teacher shortages and the fear of teachers leaving the classroom and the surveys are showing that.”

Burned-out teachers put one more question in parents’ heads about just how engaged students have been.

“I think there’s been a degree of leniency on the grades,” said Farrell. “You cannot assume the way the teachers assess over the last two years has been the same because of the pandemic because the engagement has not been the same.”

One of the ways to measure student engagement is through the MCAS scores. The scores aren’t available yet for the tests for this school year, but the ones from last year showed a decline in almost every grade level.

DESE reps say the goal is to see records in all levels of engagement from testing, to graduation rates to attendance as things get back to normal.

Click here to see how your school district ranks in these measures.

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