Vineyard high school in need of ‘intervention’

Superintendent says most town schools have room for improvement, especially the MVRHS

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School building project is seeking public input.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is considered in need of intervention following recent MCAS scores, Superintendent of Schools Richard Smith said at Thursday night’s All-Island School Committee meeting. 

The evaluation came from a combination of MCAS score results along with other indicators of school performance.

“When I saw the scores, I had concerns,” the superintendent said. “There’s no sugar-coating that this is a high-stakes test. We are looking at how to immediately support students and do things that are in our practice.” 

With the MCAS being a “gateway” exam to a high school diploma and graduation, Smith said, he intends to prioritize supporting students on the test.

Of this year’s 10th graders, 69 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts portion of the exam, while 21 percent partially met expectations, and 10 percent did not meet expectations. For 10th grade math scores, 55 percent met or exceeded expectations, while 45 percent partially met or did not meet expectations. In science and engineering, 50 percent of students met or exceeded expectations, while the other half partially met or did not meet expectations. 

The superintendent called for bringing in better intervention, and supporting student subgroups who have traditionally not performed well on the MCAS. Smith did not say what exactly he hoped to do, but did say, “It’s not as easy as, ‘Let’s just bring a math specialist to support a subgroup of kids.’”

The MCAS is administered throughout grade school, but is a particularly high-stakes test for 10th graders. Students in 10th grade take assessments in math, English language arts, and science. Per the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), in order to earn a high school diploma, students must pass all three areas of the exam. 

Smith gave a mea culpa at the meeting: “I don’t want to impart disappointment on the kids or staff. I look at myself and say, How did I contribute to these scores?” 

“There are things we need to do to support kids who have found this test challenging,” said Smith. He encouraged schools to review for the MCAS, pointing out that without review for the spring test, it’s up to students to revisit material from the start of the school year on their own. 

“You can review the standards,” said Smith. “I wouldn’t say that’s teaching to the test. I believe we should bring that back to the conscious awareness for kids.” 

The MCAS is part of an accountability system that holds schools to a standard of continuing improvement. One of those indicators is achievement, which is measured by the MCAS average scores of the three area exams. Other indicators used to evaluate school performances include student growth, high school completion, English language proficiency, attendance, and enrollment in advanced courses.

Any state that takes federal money is required to put together its own accountability system to show improvements within schools, and for Massachusetts, that test is the MCAS. 

Around 2012, the state began trying out different assessments from MCAS. The state administered several other tests to measure student achievement, which were used between 2012 and 2017, before returning to a revamped edition of MCAS, called MCAS Next Generation, according to Smith. This new test has been used since 2017, establishing a new baseline for tracking student achievement.

Since then, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns have taken a toll on student learning, achievement, and performance.

From here on out, Smith explained, the high school is on a state-evaluated “recovery path.” Schools fall into two state designations, the “recovery path” or the “path forward.” This path is determined by students’ averaged scores compared with the baseline averages established in 2019. DESE averages scores every two years of English language arts, math, and science to generate these designations.

If the average exceeds the 2019 scores, the school is considered on the path forward. If the average score is lower than 2019’s, the state evaluates the school as being in recovery. Thus, the high school is on the recovery path, and viewed as in need of intervention. 

Scoring isn’t from school to school, but subgroup to subgroup, Smith said. Some subgroups considered include students with low socioeconomic backgrounds, students with special needs, and English language learners. Though MCAS scores did not improve Island-wide, some subgroups, areas, and schools did demonstrate improvement in areas of the accountability assessment, according to Smith. 

Schools are also assessed by a numerical rating of how close or far away they are to achieving educational goals, which takes MCAS results into account. 

Two of the Island’s schools were found to have made limited or no progress toward their educational goals: the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Edgartown School.

Three schools made moderate progress toward their goals: Chilmark, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury. 

The West Tisbury School had the highest score, and was found to have made substantial progress toward its goals. The school missed being categorized as meeting or exceeding their goals by two points, Smith said. 


  1. Every time I tried to read the first story about the high school, I’d get about 1 paragraph, and the whole thing would disappear and I’d b3 back at the beginning again. This after indicating I’m a subscriber, in the appropriate place several times.Please get this website to act more like a friend than an opponent!

  2. I’ve had this same problem several times. After I have “cleared” my Safari browser setting, I can only get back on the site by creating a new password for the MV Times login.

  3. When do we look at leadership? When does the superintendent look at leadership of the schools? Word on the street is there, low teacher morale which is indicative to poor school performance. The current Superintendent appears to be taking the same action as our last, finding fault everywhere but where it really is. This has been on going for many years and not just because of covid. No more excuses. Our kids deserve better. ALL Our teachers deserve better not just the ones in the inner circle.
    If kids feel respected and cared for they will step up and if they don’t, the results are poor MCAS score, higher the average drop out rates ……..
    we have all heard the stories or know someone who has lived the stories of MVRHS. They can’t all be wrong and now the proof of dysfunction lives in those scores.
    Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here”. On whose desk does this sit.

  4. Low teacher morale.
    Low pay.
    High living expenses.
    People saying how horrible they are.
    So many “Special Needs Kids, everyone’s kid is special.

    Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here”. Does this sign sit on your desk? Who hires the Superintendent? Who votes for the School Committee. The problems with the schools are in voter’s mirrors.

  5. Mr. Hess you might be onto something about voters. I wonder what the message was to educators and students when up island decided to defund the budget and hold education hostage.
    We pay a lot of money to principals and the superintendent If I were running a 25 million dollar business and it was failing, I certainly would not expect a raise, for instance. Perhaps my entire administration would not expect a raise.
    The school committee is responsible for policy and budgets. They are not responsible for principals nor
    Principals evaluations. However, they can decide not to budget money for raises. Personally,I’m Not sure that’s the best approach. In my opinion, Good old fashion expectations and good old fashion consequences for when expectations are not met need to happen. It appears…. To me that They have not been met for some time.
    I know about covid. We are given excuses and reasons to try to cover up the ineffective administration. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news but even the nicest people can make for very poor managers of people. Education is a people “business”, some people are just not equipped to be leaders in such environments regardless of their great ideas. We need to make bold changes. The buck stops where????

    • Did the people you voted for vote the way you wanted?
      Have you considered running for School Committee?

  6. As a parentwith a child in the school system, I do not care about MCAS scores. I care about my child learning to be a critical thinker, develop a deep breadth of knowledge, develop good study skills and a strong work ethic, and learning to be kind and cooperative to her peers and teachers. None of this is reflected in the MCAS scores. I understand administrators have pressure from the state level to reach certain benchmarks and are doing their best, I do not fault them for propagating the testing mentality. However, I think at the human level it’s merits are debatable.

      • Those 3 words don’t cause me to clutch pearls, provided they’re discussed in a mature, sensible manner. Our current political climate makes it difficult, but I believe it’s possible at a local level.

  7. Julian you are very correct about the human level experiences propagating diverse learners and compassionate ,kind, thoughtful, human beings, critical thinkers, with good work/study habits. Some schools excel at that, others keep trying the latest newest something.I would also like to add I want my children to be at least proficient in reading math and writing add anything else to that you’d like and I’d say me too. The test scores do not define the students nor the teachers. They define something folks have been trying to tell the Superintendents(plural) for a long time. They tell of a basic failure to thrive I’m not stating everyone, Nothing is an all or nothing but many. They tell of something deeper about how people feel and the undertones of a building. They tell of serious dysfunction and it’s been before covid and yes after covid. Someone once mentioned looking up report cards on DESE. They are hard to read but anyone can see how their school is doing. Take a look, ask questions, expect folks to do “their jobs”
    And yes accountability and MCAS scores whether we like it or not are part of job performance for administrators.

    • Hi Tina, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am definitely old school in the sense that I am a “reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic” type to the very end. I had an outstanding education in the island school system, growing up here prior to MCAS, any shortcomings were due to my own lack of motivation, not the great work the teachers were doing. The old model was where the school committee would pick a good superintendent, he picked good principals, they picked good teachers, and everybody went to work. I personally believe that once politicians interjected themselves into the mix, the trouble began. I have worked in the school system in the past, and know many of the teachers working today, and for the most part it is a wonderful group of people who are very dedicated, doing hard work every day to do the best they can for the kids. Overall I think we are very lucky to have the staff we have.

  8. Teachers unions and no accountability and very little parent involvement. Good education is declining all over the country. It has nothing to do with teachers salaries.

  9. After reading most of the book The. Geography of Thought, (a comparison between east and west thinking), I understood more how our way of thinking here in the USA and Europe differs greatly by our societies COMMUNAL thinking.

    Our schools suffer many times because of what things are placed out there as more important. Many parents don’t get involved or get involved so much they do homework for their children. Sports takes on an unbalanced priority etc. etc..
    Teachers have taken on the dual role of teacher and parent. This is truly unfair and as one person mentioned, the housing here is expensive and it’s hard to secure.

    I don’t have the answers but something is broken and needs ‘fixin’

    Wasn’t it a few yrs back that MVHS was considered a “Blue Ribbon School” what happened?

  10. Teachers (sic, ESL?) unions have the same accountability as police, fire, garbage collectors and air traffic controllers unions.

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