By Lily Remick, Assistant News Editor
Throughout the year the school has taken the initiative to plan as if students were going to have MCAS. This means students have had to learn and study just as hard as they normally would if they had a normal school year and were to have MCAS at the end of the year. Although they planned ahead, they weren’t completely positive students would actually have the testing until a few weeks before the standardized testing. Students were then informed they would have MCAS testing throughout spring.
There are a few differences this year compared to the last few years of MCAS testing. Seniors did not have to take any of this testing to graduate, and that also applies to juniors, class of 2022. Sophomore and freshman were informed that they would have testing. Students who did poorly last year were “grandfathered” through the system and were able to get passed having to retake it. This was due to the chaos we went through last year with the at once new and confusing pandemic.
At the beginning of the day on an MCAS testing day, students were told that they would have the entire school day, which is about six hours, to complete the test. According to the staff, that is a plentiful amount of time and the test should take no longer than about two to three and half hours to finish per day. You are granted so much time due to the fact that students take tests at different paces. If you are not able to attend school for the test, you are allowed access and permission to do it the following week. All tests are submitted and sent to The Department of Education, who will grade the Biology tests by hand, and English and Math by computer. Results of each student’s scores and data are given to the Nantucket High School around the middle of August, sometimes as late as September.
A score of 220 is required to pass the Biology test, and 240 is the baseline score for both English and Mathematics testing. A score of 260 and higher, if met, is considered an advanced score for learners taking the Biology test. If you do not meet the required score and you fail to pass you must re-take the MCAS. If you fail the test, you retake an entire course of Biology and retake the MCAS test. You have to pass all three (Math, Science, and English) to receive a diploma. Most students who fail the Biology test fail by one to two points on an open response question.
If you get an advanced score on both Math and English MCAS, you are eligible for the John and Abigail Adams scholarship, which gives financial help to students attending a state school in Massachusetts. To be eligible, you must also have a combined MCAS score that is ranked in the top 25% of the school district, and to continue receiving the scholarship, you must continue to meet certain academic standards while in college.
The reason the state has us do these tests is because they want to make sure every student in Massachusetts can do the same type of courses. This means that every school in Massachusetts teaches their students the same type of lessons and the same type of curriculum so that all students know the same amount about certain subjects and so that everyone is equal with what they know. However this can become a problem.
“There are pros and cons about MCAS,” said Mrs. MacDonald, a Biology teacher at the highschool. “When teachers are given a specific curriculum to follow there is less of an opportunity to branch out and dive deeper into certain subjects. We are forced to stay at a certain pace and it can limit us with teaching and limit the students from learning other things. Sometimes teaching to the test is worse than just teaching more open on subject matter.”
Mrs. MacDonald also saw the benefits: “Comparing MCAS to MAP, testing the data is very different. MAP testing for Biology has never happened; this is because the problem was it doesn’t give any data to see questions students were getting wrong. On MCAS you can see what is wrong on specific questions, as well as where students are doing poorly… The district wants us to do MAP testing, but we don’t.” This is why in some cases teachers prefer MCAS; it is more efficient than other testing options.
Many have different opinions on whether the students were prepared or not. Although students had the year to prepare for MCAS, the school’s restructured schedule only gave students two blocks a week in each class, which narrows down the time of learning. On the other hand, they were longer blocks. Even then, we were online for a majority of the year and that made it very difficult for teachers to teach.
“I felt they were prepared, but I also didn’t at the same time, starting two weeks late in the year and only two classes per week. We didn’t get through all the content… we normally do,” Mrs. MacDonald commended. She added that she “didn’t go into detail with almost all topics because of less time. On the other hand there was some sort of preparation such as practice tests and MCAS questions, but time constraints still limited us.”
One anonymous student said that “the process of studying and learning up to MCAS felt rushed. I understand that because of Covid we had limited time to learn, however, the week before MCAS we covered multiple units within two class periods.” The same student added that, “the questions were how I expected, some harder than others. I felt somewhat prepared.” Many students and teachers felt rushed this year due to the lack of time.
Mrs. MacDonald also said that “this test should be important to students because you have to pass all three to get a diploma. You are given years to achieve this and if you want to graduate and go onto college it is something that you need.”
Ella Hofford, high school freshman, said, “I personally don’t think MCAS is as important as it seems to students. For a lot of our lives, our teachers have told us that we just need to pass these tests and colleges won’t look at our MCAS scores, so therefore students don’t really try to get the best score. Students must put in enough effort to pass the test. I think that it shouldn’t be important to students because one test isn’t able to determine your future.” Many students stressed that they have been taught how to take tests their whole lives and that it turned out to not be as important as they had been told.
This year took a toll on learning and teaching. An extreme amount of motivation was required to be able to study as hard as most students did, and for teachers to proceed even with the stressful workload they carried. Luckily, most felt as though they were pretty well prepared for the MCAS testing; a few others didn’t, but most felt like Nantucket High School did a phenomenal job with preparation, even through a pandemic.