BOSTON — The pandemic has taken a toll on the test scores of Massachusetts students, according to statewide MCAS test results from the spring 2021 exam released Tuesday by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Overall, the results revealed that many more students had gaps in their knowledge of math and, to a lesser extent, English language arts, compared with students in the same grades before the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations, according to education officials.
The state did not administer MCAS tests near the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020. That means the most recent year to compare with this year’s scores is 2019.
In 2021, 46 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored “meeting expectations” or higher in English language arts, while 33 percent scored the same in math.
Both represent a drop compared to 2019, when 52 percent of students scored “meeting expectations” or higher 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 spring test scores “clearly illustrate how the disrupted school year of remote and hybrid learning impacted students’ academic achievement,” Secretary of Education James Peyser said in a written statement.
“We will continue to work with districts to support efforts to regain learning that did not happen and promote student success and educational equity,” Peyser added.
Families are scheduled to receive their child’s individual MCAS scores after Sept. 30. Students who were in grades 3-8 in the spring were given shorter than usual tests, which can cause individual student performance to vary more than usual compared to prior years, officials said.
Problems with the MCAS test go far beyond the pandemic, according to American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos.
“This year’s test results, as they do every year, reflect our failure as a society to support students living in high-poverty districts,” Kontos said in a written statement. “They’re not a reflection of our students’ true potential.”
The release of the test results comes a day after state lawmakers held a virtual public hearing on a bill that would scrap the MCAS test as a graduation requirement
The bill would replace the standardized test with what supporters describe as “a broader and democratically determined framework to measure school quality, along with more authentic forms of demonstrating student achievement” while creating a grant program to let teachers, students, parents and local school districts set goals for their public schools and identify what resources are needed to realize those goals.
The proposal would also require the state to offer multiple pathways for students to demonstrate that they “have met the mastery standard for the competency determination, including options that do not require a student to take a standardized test.”
Massachusetts school districts are set to receive about $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 districts can spend the money on a wide range of priorities to meet the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students resulting from the pandemic.
Due to the pandemic, state election officials aren’t issuing new accountability determinations for districts and schools this year.
Accountability designations take into account MCAS scores, MCAS growth, graduation rates, attendance, and other measures. Districts and schools will retain the accountability designation they had before the pandemic. The education department will resume making accountability designations in 2022.
Story by Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press