Statewide MCAS results show gains and gaps in student learning in Massachusetts public schools
Statewide MCAS scores released Wednesday show record high performance by Massachusetts 10th-graders on the annual English, math and science tests and a narrowing of the gap between white students’ and black and Latino students’ scores.
The results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, taken last spring by public school students in grades 3-8 and 10, were more mixed in the lower grades, where English scores declined in some grades and stayed flat in others, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Achievement gaps also grew for some vulnerable groups of students, notably English language learners.
The department announced that 14 of 34 schools that were ranked as underperforming based on MCAS scores in 2010 will exit that status after meeting three-year turnaround goals. None of those schools is in Hampshire County.
The state will release the latest test scores and rankings for individual districts and schools Friday.
State Education Secretary Matthew Malone called MCAS “a good barometer of whether kids are learning what we’re teaching them in the classroom.
“By that yardstick, Massachusetts is very successful,” he said, in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Malone cited the “highest scores ever” among 10th-graders in the latest test round, crediting “the focus of our teachers on the curriculum, the Common Core standards and best practices” for boosting student achievement.
In the 10th grade, test results showed 91 percent of students scored proficient or higher on the English MCAS, up from 88 percent in 2012. In math, the percentage of 10th-graders scoring at that level rose from 78 percent in spring 2012 testing to 80 percent in the spring of 2013, the latest test round; and in science, it rose from 69 percent to 71 percent.
By comparison, in 1998, the first year MCAS was administered, only 38 percent of 10th-graders scored proficient or higher in English and only 24 percent in math. There was no test in science at that time.
Despite such gains, state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester noted that 40 percent of students who graduate from public high schools in Massachusetts end up needing remedial courses in their first year of college.
“It’s clear that MCAS is not providing us with the signal or rigor we need to tell us whether students are on track and ready for college-level work,” Chester said, in a statement announcing the test results.
In response, Chester said the state is developing “a next-generation assessment system to assess a broader range of the skills we value and employers tell us are necessary to prepare students for success after high school.”
Area schools will be helping to test that new system, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, this spring. See the Gazette’s story on PARCC at: http://bit.ly/1epjG9i
Andrew Churchill, a senior research fellow in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said overall, the latest MCAS results are good news for the state.
“The trend lines are all in the right direction and that’s something we should be proud of,” he said.
On the other hand, Churchill said he was concerned about the achievement gaps for English language learner students at some grade levels. On the MCAS math tests, for example, the percentage of ELL students in 10th grade who scored proficient or higher was 27 percent, compared to 80 percent for all students in grade 10, according to the results.
“That’s an area we need to pay some attention to,” Churchill said.
He added that lower test results in some of the early grades — such as a decline of 3 to 4 percentage points in English MCAS scores in grades 3 and 4 — show a need to focus attention on early learning.
“If it were me, I’d make MCAS high stakes at grade 4 instead of grade 10,” Churchill said. He was referring to the fact that passing the test in 10th grade is a requirement for high school graduation.
When asked whether this year’s strong MCAS performance in 10th grade is a reflection of student learning or the higher stakes at that level, another UMass expert took a positive view.
“It shows that when students are motivated, they do their best,” said Stephen Sireci, a professor of psychometrics and director of the Center for Educational Assessment at UMass.
Sireci, who has been critical of the growth percentile measure the state uses to rank schools based on MCAS scores, said the latest results show the time is right for more research on turnaround schools.
“What are the schools coming out of Level 4 doing right?” he asked. “What are they doing differently? There’s a lot of data there and we should think about how it can be used.”
Other highlights of the statewide MCAS results include:
∎ 88 percent of the state’s 10th-graders met the required minimum MCAS score needed for a high school diploma in all three tests subjects, up from 86 percent in the spring 2012 test and 68 percent 10 years ago, when the requirement first took effect.
∎ The gap between the percentage of African-American students scoring proficient or higher on the MCAS English tests and the percentage of white students scoring at that level narrowed in all but one of the tested grade levels. In grade 10, the gap decreased by 19 percent.
∎ In math, the achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students narrowed at all grades tested.
∎ Math scores improved in the latest test round in grades 3-8, with the exception of sixth grade, where they were unchanged.
∎ Students made gains in MCAS English scores in grades 5 and 6 but scores in that subject declined in grades 3 and 4. Student performance on the English test in grades 3 and 4 has been flat for the past five years.
A full report of the statewide MCAS results is available online at the state Department of Education website.