‘Recovery is fully underway:’ MCAS testing scores resurface from pandemic plunge

For the first time since the pre-pandemic 2019 results, MCAS scores are ticking up, according to state education data released Tuesday.

“We are pleased to see both the 2023 English Language Arts and Mathematics results indicate that the achievement slide caused by the pandemic appears to have halted, and recovery is fully underway,” said Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley at an embargoed briefing Monday. “In both ELA and math all grades, three to eight, maintained or increased the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations from 2022.”

While results remained below 2019 levels, all districtwide ELA and math from third to eighth grade increased or remained level.

The test was administered fully for the first time since pandemic closures in 2022, following two years of cancelled and mitigated MCAS testing. 2022’s results reported a mixed bag of gains and losses — with particularly hard hit to younger students ELA scores — but an overall failure to rebound from the pandemic hit.

For 2023, results were “particularly strong” in grades four and five, Riley said, with ELA and math scores up from 2% to 5% for the grades.

But not all indications were positive.

“The one caution, in full disclosure, that I’m putting forth today is our grade three MCAS results for this year,” said DESE Associate Commissioner Rob Curtin. “It’s the only grade three through eight combination, both ELA and math, that has not increased. Those results are flat.”

The weaker results signal a continued more uneasy outlook for younger kids who entered school around the start of the pandemic, Curtin said.

High schools scores in both subjects remained the same as 2022 scores. Curtin noted that while the trend is generally weaker than the lower grades, the scores are also significantly closer to pre-pandemic levels and the “challenge is smaller.”

Science scores across the board declined, falling 1% for fifth, eighth and tenth grades. Curtin called the trend “relatively stable.”

In terms of ethnicity, Curtin noted largely steady trends but singled out 10th grade ELA scores for Black students. The group scores increased 4% from the 2019 scores, followed by a 1% increase in Asian Americans’ scores from pre-pandemic and a steady rate for Latino students.

Boston Public Schools did not perform as well as the state scores, with several results declining from 2022.

“Every year, MCAS and accountability data is a reminder of the work that needs to be done,” said Superintendent Mary Skipper, noting this is the year she expects to see new support systems “bear results as they gain more traction.”

Seventh grade ELA scores were hardest hit in BPS, falling 3%. Third grade ELA, eighth grade ELA and seventh grade math fell 1%.

Fourth, fifth and sixth grades’ ELA and math scores saw a swell of positive trends in BPS, and tenth grade science scores jumped 3%.

Like the state, the district remains well behind pre-pandemic 2019 scores, with particular gaps in youth literacy among other areas.

In a BPS release, Boston School Committee Chairperson Jeri Robinson noted indicators of “progress in key areas and among key groups of students.”

These included strong improvement for the lowest-performing student group in math. Compared to a 0.5 point increase for all students, the lowest-performing group increased their average math score by 5.9 points.

The state also released the first full accountability data since 2019, which measures indicators like testing achievement, chronic absenteeism, English proficiency and high school completion.

Decisions related to the entry or exit of schools from the “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming” designation will be made “in the coming weeks,” officials said.

In the results 83% of Massachusetts schools are classified as not requiring assistance or intervention, and 62% met, exceeded or made “substantial progress towards” accountability targets.

Sixty-six schools were also named “schools of recognition” for meeting and exceeding targets and high achievement and growth.

In BPS, 57 of the districts 125 schools were identified as not requiring assistance or intervention and four schools were specially recognized: Tynan Elementary School and the Perry School in South Boston and the Kennedy School and Manning School in Jamaica Plain.

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