The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the 2023 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) results, and it revealed some improvements may be needed at Martha’s Vineyard schools.
This is the first full release of accountability data since 2019, according to a press release from the department. This includes information such as rates of graduation and chronic absenteeism, and the schools’ progress toward their goals.
The results show the Martha’s Vineyard Public School District as “requiring assistance or intervention,” and “in need of focused/targeted support.”
More specifically, these classifications were used to describe Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), which made “limited or no progress toward targets.” These are the same designations the high school received in 2019.
No MCAS tests were administered in 2020, and only partial tests were done in 2021. While MVRHS saw improvements to its 2022 test scores compared with 2019, its 2023 MCAS results showed a decline.
Other public schools on the Island were listed as “not requiring assistance or intervention,” most of them making moderate or substantial progress toward their goals. Edgartown School was the only other school on Martha’s Vineyard classified as having made limited or no progress toward targets.
Oak Bluffs School saw a decrease in English and science scores, but an increase in math scores. Chilmark School did not have science scores listed, but saw a decrease in English and math scores. Edgartown School and Tisbury School saw an overall decrease in scores.
West Tisbury School was the only school of the five institutions to see an overall increase in its MCAS scores compared with 2022.
“These are concern areas for me, and are concern areas for our staff,” said Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Richie Smith, who underscored a need for the Island’s educators to work together to determine how best to respond to the results. Smith added that the schools will also need to evaluate how to support students with higher needs.
While the reports do not provide a road map for improvements, Smith said they affirm what the schools are doing right, such as Edgartown School English learner students improving their language proficiency, while highlighting where focus needs to be given.
“We don’t cloud ourselves by looking at just the positives,” he said
Smith said Island educators shouldn’t have a “knee-jerk reaction” to the test results; work is underway to see where school resources need to be directed, or if a teaching method needs changing. Each school has a different improvement target, and these are based on the previous year’s test results and report.
Smith said the school principals and staff had a meeting with him on Thursday morning to see the data and share their practices with one another.
“We always expect improvement, and we didn’t see that in some of our schools,” Smith said. “Nobody takes this harder than our staff.”
Smith emphasized that the test results were not the students’ responsibility, and neither was he disappointed in the teachers. Rather, Smith said, he was disappointed in himself for the results, since he heads the instructional efforts of the schools.
To tackle improving the school system and supporting the students, Smith said both immediate solutions, such as hiring a reading or math specialist for students who need help, and long-term options — which can take months to years to bear fruit — like implementing co-teaching in the Island’s schools should be pursued. “It’s a two-pronged approach,” he said.
Smith said he and the principals plan to go over the MCAS results and improvement plans at a public meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, most information for Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) was not available due to “insufficient data.” MVPCS Director Pete Steedman said this was because the Charter School did not meet the student population requirements to receive an accountability report, although tests were taken.
Steedman said the Charter School staff was very excited about how well the students performed on the tests. He pointed to how at least half of students who took the tests met or exceeded expectations in the English and science tests, when the state average was 42 percent. He said the gap in math is also decreasing.
“That’s a huge testament to our teachers,” he said. “Overall, we are really thrilled with our MCAS scores.”
According to the release, the overall results in the state are showing continued recovery from the pandemic, although the scores were still lower than in 2019. Results in English language arts and math were at or above 2022 results for all grades. The release states the MCAS is “one of the most highly regarded and rigorous state assessments in the nation.” The results indicate that Massachusetts students’ learning is starting to rebound, even if some reports suggest a continued national slide in academic achievement.
“Pandemic learning loss is a national problem, but these results show signs of recovery thanks to the hard work of educators, students, families, and staff,” state Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler said in the release. “We know there is still much to be done, and we will continue to improve and strengthen our schools until every student can access the [support] and resources they need to succeed.”
The department states that Massachusetts school districts continue to use federal and state funding to support various forms of academic support, such as acceleration academies during school vacations. School districts have also shown a strong interest in grants and professional learning opportunities in areas like early literacy.
The department shows that of those who took the test, 41 percent of third through eighth graders and 50 percent of tenth graders met or exceeded expectations in math, 42 percent of third through eighth graders and 58 percent of 10th graders met or exceeded expectations in English, and 42 percent of fifth graders, 41 percent of eighth graders, and 47 percent of high schoolers met or exceeded expectations in science.
The vast majority of schools — 83 percent — that received an accountability designation were identified as “not requiring assistance or intervention.” Sixty-two percent of schools met, exceeded or made “substantial progress towards” their accountability targets.