State releases MCAS results as new test is phased in

BOSTON — A pair of schools in Boston and Springfield are shedding their "underperforming" status, and the state's education commissioner said he wants to take a deeper look at districts before deciding whether to designate any new underperforming schools this year.

In the second year of a new accountability system and during the gradual rollout of a "next-generation" standardized test, state education officials on Tuesday are releasing 2019 school and district accountability designations and MCAS test results.

This was the first year that 10th graders took the next-generation MCAS in English and math, and their average scores in both subjects -- 506 in English and 505 in math -- were in the "meeting expectations" category. In the first set of results from next-generation science tests in grades five and eight, 48 percent of fifth graders and 46 percent of eighth graders scored in the "meeting expectations" range.

Scores on the new test run from 440 to 560 points, and are divided into the categories of exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations and not meeting expectations. The categories differ from the previous version, or "legacy" MCAS.

The minimum passing score 10th graders must earn as a graduation requirement on the next-generation level is set at the equivalent of the minimum passing score for the legacy MCAS. In the new test, that score falls within the "not meeting expectations" category.

Eighty-seven percent of 10th graders met the minimum score requirement, the same percentage as last year, the department said. That interim passing standard will remain in place for at least the classes of 2021 and 2022, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will eventually decide whether to move to a higher minimum score.

There were overall "modest gains" across grades three through eight, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said, plus some "particular strength" in third grade English scores. Advocates often point to third-grade reading levels as important indicators of future academic success.

The percentage of third-graders scoring "meeting expectations" or higher in English rose 4 percentage points, to 56 percent, according to the department. Riley said scores in that grade had "been flat for several years, so that's something to take note of."

The test results, released days after lawmakers unveiled a $1.5 billion, seven-year education funding reform plan that aims to close achievement gaps, indicate that some racial gaps persist.

This year's average English language arts scores in grades three to eight were 490.6 for Hispanic or Latino students, 491.2 for African-American and Black students, 504.9 for white students, and 512.8 for Asian students. In math, the average scores were 487.8 for African American and Black students, 488.2 for Hispanic/Latino students, 502.7 for white students, and 516.4 for Asian students.

Riley said the state and individual school districts are looking at "multiple ways" to close achievement gaps, including an initiative focused on hiring more teachers of color.

In the accountability system that gauges the performance of districts and schools, 67 schools earned the title of "schools of recognition" for high achievement, high growth, or performance relative to improvement targets. That number is up from 52 last year.

Twelve percent of schools and 6 percent of districts were designated as "requiring assistance or intervention."

Boston's Channing Elementary School and the John J. Duggan Academy in Springfield are exiting underperforming status this year, leaving 22 schools designated as underperforming and four chronically underperforming.

Riley did not apply the underperforming label to any new schools last year, citing the transition to a new accountability system. This year, he said, he will wait until later in the school year to potentially designate any new underperforming schools.

Riley said the education department wants to give schools time to "get grounded in" the new assessment and accountability system.

"Also as we looked at the data, what we began to see is rather than a focus on individual schools, we saw districts that were showing some weakness in being in the bottom 10 percent, so we're interested in taking a deeper look at the districts at this point," he said.

A "sizeable percentage" of the lowest performing schools were in Boston, according to the department, which plans to conduct a review of the Boston Public Schools this fall.

Riley said that review, expected to be completed early next year, will provide a "holistic assessment."

The MCAS scores released Tuesday are for the district and school level. Parents should receive their child's score information from their school district in October, education officials said.

>> You can check your school or district's results here.

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