MCAS Scores Paint Stark Picture Of Pandemic Learning, But Local Schools Still Score Mostly Above State Average

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , COVID-19

The Monomoy schools are a mandatory mask zone. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

The good news is that Lower Cape schools generally scored above the state average in the spring round of MCAS tests. The bad news is that, in several key subject areas and grades, the state average is markedly down since pre-pandemic times.

Statewide results show that many more students had gaps in their knowledge of math and English compared to students in the same grades before the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer students met or exceeded grade level expectations. The state did not administer Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests in spring 2020, near the start of the pandemic, so the most recent year to compare with this year’s scores is 2019.

The Monomoy schools scored in the top two categories of MCAS scores in all 19 grade and subject tests, and was at or below the state average for students in the “not meeting expectations” category in all tests as well.

Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter said the drop in scores regionally and statewide was not unexpected.

“There are bright spots in the data, especially at our middle school and in 10th grade, and our students clearly benefited from the ability to have in-person learning all last year. We are well positioned to continue the growth we have seen to date,” Carpenter wrote in an update to parents. He urged families to remember that students are more than just test scores.

“Living and schooling through a global pandemic leaves its mark, and we are committed to addressing the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students as we move forward,” he said.

Cape Cod Tech, which only administers English and math tests to 10th graders, saw performance below the state average. The number of students scoring in the top two categories was 26 percent, compared to 52 percent statewide. Most students fell in the “partially meeting expectations” category. Cape Tech’s English language arts score for the top two categories was also below the state average, though nearly half fell in the “meeting expectations” category.

The test results were more mixed in the Nauset Public Schools, where students bested the state average in seven of the 12 grade and subject tests. Middle school mathematics was an area of weakness, along with science.

Statewide, the number of students placing in the top three categories for the elementary and middle school English tests dropped from 52 percent in 2019 to 46 percent this year. For math, the scores fell more dramatically from 49 percent to 33 percent.

Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in East Harwich, which bested the state average for the top two scoring categories in all but one subject and grade test, nonetheless struggled with seventh grade math. In the number of students “meeting or exceeding expectations,” the Lighthouse school scored 25 percent, 10 points lower than the state average.

Though the state’s MCAS results were disappointing, they provided key insight and “clearly illustrate how the disrupted school year of remote and hybrid learning impacted students’ academic achievement,” Education Secretary James Peyser said. “We will continue to work with districts to support efforts to regain learning that did not happen and promote student success and educational equity.”

“This data will help shed light on where additional support is most needed and as districts determine how to best use federal relief funds and state aid, these results can help inform their approach,” Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said. Massachusetts school districts will receive approximately $2.8 billion in state and federal pandemic relief money in the three and a half years between the 2021-22 school year and fall 2024. The money is primarily in the form of federal coronavirus relief funds, and districts can spend it on a wide-range of priorities in order to meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs resulting from the pandemic.

State education officials are encouraging families to remember that students in grades 3 through 8 took tests that were shorter than usual, which can cause individual scores to vary more widely than usual. “These variations even out as groups of students are aggregated, but the difference is worth keeping in mind when viewing individual results. Families should also remember that MCAS results are only one measure of their child's growth and achievement,” they wrote.

The state did not issue district-wide “accountability determinations” this year, which rates each district’s progress reaching student achievement goals based on MCAS scores, graduation rates, attendance and other measures.