Spring MCAS scores (mostly) go south

BOSTON — It came, really, as no surprise: MCAS scores from last spring, statewide, generally went in one direction: down. Data released Tuesday by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed the agency administered more than a million assessments to Massachusetts students in Grades 3-8 and in Grade 10.

In only one category did proficiency improve over 2019, the last time students took MCAS; Tenth graders saw a 3% rise in language arts in 2021 over 2019. Statewide, in the same category, Grades 3-8 saw a drop of 6% and a steep decline of 15% for math. In Grade 10, math scores slipped 7%.

Additionally, Grades 5 and 8 take an MCAS science exam. Those scores, combined, fell by 5%.

“I would argue never has the MCAS been more important to families because they’re going to want to know what happened to their kids during the pandemic,” said DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. “And they’re going to want to know in the coming years [if] have they improved or not and what does that look like.”

Others disagree on the validity of MCAS overall and, most especially, scores from last spring, including leaders from the state’s two teachers’ unions.

Related: MCAS results show slide in scores during pandemic

“We should not be spending time looking at last year’s MCAS scores, which are completely invalid,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “Because once again, it’s taking away from the time we actually need to reconnect with our students.”

In a statement, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos said: “The MCAS test, highly correlated with student socioeconomic status, has always been a flawed and unreliable measure of both student learning and school quality. This was never truer than last school year, when the MCAS was administered in a haphazard manner during a global pandemic that exposed and amplified deep social and educational inequities.”

Despite the pandemic, participation in last spring’s MCAS was high. In only one category did testing fall below 90%. The MCAS for high school science drew 89% of sophomores.

“We are typically in the 97-to-98% range in Grades 3-8 and closer to 95 for Grade 10,” said Robert Curtin, associate education commissioner. “It is a little bit of a dip in participation, but generally strong and comparable to prior years.”