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.