Spring 2021 statewide MCAS results released

Massachusetts

MALDEN, Mass. (WWLP) – The statewide MCAS test results from the spring 2021 exams have been published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

The spring 2021 assessment results can be read here.

The spring 2020 exams were cancelled due to COVID-19, so the most recent findings were compared to the spring 2019 exam results.

The data revealed that many more students had gaps in their knowledge of math and English language arts, compared to students in the same grades before the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer students meet or exceeded grade level expectations. 

Other outcomes found 46 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored Meeting Expectations or higher in English language arts in 2021, and 33 percent did so in math. This represents a drop compared to 2019, when 52 percent scored at that level in English language arts and 49 percent did so in math.

For 10th grade English language arts, 64 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher compared to 61 percent in 2019. In 10th grade math, 52 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher, compared to 59 percent in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic brought new calls from teachers and parents to ditch MCAS because of what they believe is an unfair testing system that is biased, makes teachers focus on test preparation, and creates stress on students who struggle academically, as passing the test is a requirement for a high school diploma.

Currently, a bill filed by Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. James Hawkins (S 293 / H 612) would exclude the graduation requirement and “expand opportunities to demonstrate academic achievement.”

According to a news release sent to 22News from DESE, school districts will begin receiving state and federal pandemic relief money to spend for “students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs resulting from the pandemic.”

Parents and guardians will receive their child’s MCAS scores after September 30 and are reminded that the MCAS test is only one way of measuring their child’s academic abilities.

The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFT) has responded to the MCAS results with the following statement:

“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.
“Educators don’t need a standardized test to know that our students have missed out on learning since the onset of the pandemic, or that they need extra help to get back on track academically, socially, and emotionally. In many of our highest-poverty schools, test scores dropped because students lost family members to COVID-19, or because they were supervising their siblings instead of fully concentrating on their own schoolwork, or because they were busy working to keep their family from being evicted. This year’s test results, as they do every year, reflect our failure as a society to support students living in high-poverty districts; they’re not a reflection of our students’ true potential.
“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is on record saying they will not use 2021 MCAS scores for any high-stakes school accountability purpose. We support that policy and will work to ensure that students are also held harmless for the results of the 2021 tests, especially when it comes to high school graduation.
“Instead of spending time preparing for standardized tests that have limited meaning and utility, our focus this year should be on providing all students with the support, staffing, and resources they need to address both their academic and social-emotional needs — needs that in many cases were exacerbated by the pandemic. With hundreds of millions of dollars in new state and federal education aid coming to Massachusetts, school districts across the state have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give our students and their families the supports they need to thrive.
AFT Massachusetts will also continue working to advance legislative fixes to our state’s broken assessment and accountability system, such as S.361, An Act establishing a Special Commission to Re-Imagine School Assessment and Accountability, sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis. It is indeed time to re-think an antiquated system that does more harm than good for our most vulnerable students.”

AFT Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) provided this statement in response to the MCAS results:

The MTA strongly opposed having districts administer the standardized MCAS exams last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic – and the results released today underscore the reasons for our stand in favor of students, schools and public education. Educators reject the narrative that students have experienced tremendous “learning loss.” Rather, they have experienced dislocation and trauma. These issues are what the results demonstrate in cities and towns across the Commonwealth, including communities of color, which have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

MCAS scores mostly measure the impact of structural racism in the form of underfunding of public schools and public health, along with housing, food, and income insecurity – factors that students bring to their learning environment. Yet the MCAS has become a weaponized system that reveals and protects racial biases in public education and curricula.

The results released today – and the false interpretations being put on them by groups favoring privatization and other ways to disrupt public education – disregard the deep crisis in which our students and their families have been living since the pandemic closed school buildings in March 2020.

Educators throughout Massachusetts stepped up to fill a leadership void created by state education officials, and they did outstanding work in every possible way to meet the needs of students. Students themselves also stepped up to face the challenge, helping to ensure the safety of working families and our communities.

To suggest now that educators and students somehow “underperformed” or didn’t meet an arbitrary expectation is both insulting and shameful.

The goal of the high-stakes standardized tests introduced more than 20 years ago was to ensure that increased state spending on public education provided equitable resources for working-class students and students of color compared to students in more affluent districts. Just as the intended state funding for schools fell off track, requiring the MTA and other advocates to mount the successful Fund Our Future campaign that led to the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, the assessment process has become outdated and is desperately in need of full transformation.

It has become predictable to hear that Black and Latinx students have lower MCAS scores compared to predominantly white communities. These results feed a white supremacist mindset that reduces nonwhite students to merely a deficit or an “achievement gap” rather than allowing educators to understand and align their teaching with the cultural wealth that students and their families possess.

The MTA maintains that the MCAS simply measures the degree to which a community has been under-resourced and underfunded – and the degree to which narrow curriculum frameworks alienate so many students.

The MTA will continue to work with legislative leaders, parents and public education allies to move Massachusetts away from the destructive test-and-punish culture that so many other states have already abandoned and to create multiple pathways for students to demonstrate their mastery of key academic subjects. We are committed to building frameworks that are more holistic for understanding the quality of our schools.

MARY NAJIMY, MTA PRESIDENT

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