State releases new MCAS test scores

  • Teresa Barut teaches an honors geometry class at Hampshire Regional in September 2013. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2018 12:02:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Statewide standardized test results are out, and together with them a new system for assessing school quality.

Last year, the state rolled out a new computer-based version of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, for Grades 3 through 8, and next spring will be releasing a new exam for high school students. Along with this year’s test scores come new “accountability results” that differ from the previous rating system, which ranked schools using levels 1 through 5.

Just half of the state’s students met or exceeded expectations on the new MCAS test last year and this year. Education officials, however, have cautioned against reading too much into the data, given that it is only the second year of results for the new test, or the brand-new accountability system. With that in mind, the education department is not naming any new “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming” schools this year.

“I think in some ways what we’ve seen is when going to a new system, we’re treating these as baseline data,” state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Wednesday of the latest results. “We’re not trying to make too much judgment on it at this point.”

Others have also said not to read too much into the test, but for very different reasons. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the union that represents thousands of educators across the state, has previously slammed the MCAS as a poor method for measuring schools and teacher performance, and has said high-stakes standardized testing results in a “teach to the test” pedagogy.

In November 2015, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to develop a hybrid exam drawing from elements of two exams: the old MCAS test and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — or PARCC — test.

Scoring for the new “Next Generation MCAS” test, which tests elementary and middle school students’ English and math abilities, falls into four categories: exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations and not meeting expectations. Statewide, 51 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in English and 48 percent did so in math.

In Hampshire County, the districts with the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the new MCAS include Pelham (65 percent in English, 75 percent in math); Shutesbury (70 percent in English, 58 percent in math); Westhampton (71 percent in English, 74 percent in math); and the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (72 percent in English, 67 percent in math).

Districts in the county with the lowest percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations were Easthampton (37 percent in English, 36 percent in math), Ware (65 percent in English, 27 percent in math) and Williamsburg (53 percent in English, 35 percent in math).

Some educators, however, caution against reading too much into any one standardized test.

“The testing regimen reinforces the myth of failing schools, punishes students and educators, furthers the demand for teachers to drill down on test prep, and gives policymakers the narrative they need to support privatizing our public schools,” former Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni said of the MCAS last year.

This year, the state is moving to four categories in its new accountability system: schools of recognition, schools meeting targets or partially meeting targets, schools in need of targeted support and schools requiring broad comprehensive support.

Two local schools made the education department’s “Schools of Recognition” list this year, joining only 52 other schools: Westhampton Elementary and Shutesbury Elementary schools.

Amherst and Amherst-Pelham were the only districts that received an overall classification of “requiring assistance or intervention” after Crocker Farm Elementary, Wildwood Elementary, Amherst Regional Middle School and Amherst Regional High School all received an “in need of focused/targeted support” classification.

The reason for all of those schools’ classifications, however, was due to low participation rates in the MCAS test and not based on achievement. Amherst and Amherst-Pelham districts do not pressure students to take the MCAS tests more than what the state requires, according to Superintendent Michael Morris, who said that only a few students opting out in any particular subgroup can lead to a “low participation” designation at a school.

In Northampton, Bridge Street Elementary, John F. Kennedy Middle School and Northampton High School also received a classification of requiring intervention.

For Bridge Street, that is because of four students out of 40 not participating on the fifth-grade science test, and at the high school there were two students in the “Hispanic or Latino” subgroup who didn’t take the MCAS, according to Northampton Superintendent John Provost. For JFK Middle, it is because of low performance on the MCAS among English-language students and former English-language students relative to their peers.

Elsewhere, Gateway Regional Middle School in Huntington requires targeted support because of low performance among white students relative to their peers, as does Center School in Easthampton.

Provost, Morris and others told the Gazette that it’s important to delve further into the data to draw any conclusions, and that the MCAS provides just a snapshot of student achievement, and is just one metric to measure success.

“No school or student should be judged solely on the basis of one standardized test,” Provost said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at


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