By Benton Killion
Every year, according to the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, the state of Massachusetts is required to submit a report for each district. This report ensures every school is meeting standards set by national and local officials. These reports include Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) averages, attendance, the total number of students enrolled, and other statistics to ensure schools are running smoothly.
In 2019, when the most recent report was published, Nantucket High School (NHS) was doing well in English and science, however, NHS was worse than the state’s average in mathematics. In the English Language Arts test, 64% of students in our school were meeting or exceeding the state’s expectations, and in science, 81% of test-takers scored at or above the state-mandated standard. Unfortunately, our school didn’t perform as well on the mathematics test with only 56% of the tested students scoring at or above the state’s expectations compared to the 58% state average.
While our math scores don’t seem great now, when looking at previous years, our school’s scores had been consistently high. Mandy Vasil, Nantucket High School principal, said “our school’s pretty consistent in all three areas, then they…change up the test a little bit…and they change…the way they’re determining progress.” Vasil continues, saying “I don’t think it’s necessarily because our students aren’t doing well, or it’s definitely not because our teachers aren’t teaching the same standards.”
This year, however, there hasn’t been a definitive decision on what the purpose of the MCAS tests will be. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) claims this year’s MCAS will be used to determine if students can graduate, however, many school administrators across the state are advocating to use the test results to determine how well students are doing, using it as a diagnostic tool. Even when they’ll be completed is different from normal. In previous years, schools have had to complete specific MCAS tests on specific days, however, Vasil says “we will be testing our Sophomores and our Juniors this year, but one thing they’ve made different is…they’ve changed it so there’s a testing window, so schools can choose the date they want to take the test.” In addition to these changes, Vasil believes “they’ll make more changes in the MCAS testing this year.”
This pandemic has not only made MCAS testing more difficult for Sophomores and Juniors, but also for test administrators. Currently, there are two main options for administering the MCAS test; testing all the students together, or testing by cohort, though the administration has not formally announced which method will be used.
Of course, the pandemic hasn’t just made testing more difficult, but has also made it harder for teachers and students to continue doing their work, compelling Vasil to say “I think our teachers do an outstanding job keeping the standards in mind and working to make sure students can be successful when it comes time to take MCAS or any other assessment.”
When looking at our school’s overall performance, a rating based on attendance, MCAS scores, high school completion, and other criteria, our school was placed at 42. This grade means that we perform better than 41% of Massachusetts schools, which suggests significant room for improvement.
On a more positive note, our school’s student progress rating, a number given based on how much students improve, is higher than the state average in both ELA and mathematics, offering a positive outlook on our school’s future MCAS results.