Sarah Swenson, Editor-in-chief
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released the results of MCAS tests from the Spring of 2021 starting on September 30th; although, students on Nantucket did not receive their scores until well into November. Nantucket High School (NHS)’s scores were on par with Massachusetts as a whole, Scores across Massachusetts saw interesting patterns in 2021, not the expected across-the-board lowering compared to 2019 scores—the last tests that were given before quarantine due to Covid-19.
The fail rate, or percentage of students in the “Not Meeting Expectations” category of the Mathematics MCAS in 2019 was 9%. This rose to 12% on the 2021 Math MCAS. The percentage of students in the “Partially Meeting Expectations” category also rose, from 33% in 2019 to 36% in 2021, and the percent of students in the “Meeting Expectations” and “Exceeding Expectations” categories fell from 45 and 13 respectively in 2019 to 44 and 11.
Though this was only a 1 to 4 percent downward shift in scores, it was consistent. This downturn in scores reflects the lack of preparation and learning time that students have had in these past years in quarantine, according to Secretary of Education James Peyser. In a written statement this fall, he wrote that the scores “clearly illustrate how the disrupted school year of remote and hybrid learning impacted students’ academic achievement.”
The loss in learning is unsurprising when you take into account just how many days students missed, and how many more were spent at home, where the environment may not be as conducive to learning. According to a study by the University of Utah, the average student who misses 10 days of school in a normal year is 36% more likely to drop out of high school than one who misses less.
However, in Massachusetts, the English MCAS scores did not show any decided loss in education. Though the percentage of failing students increased from 8 to 9, the percentage of students “Exceeding Expectations” also increased, and more dramatically, from 13 to 19 percent. The percent of students partially meeting expectations decreased from 31 to 27, and the percent of students meeting expectations increased from 45 to 48. In the English MCAS, rather than trending down, scores became more heavy on each end, showing that students either excelled or did badly in learning after quarantine, with less middle ground than previously seen. Overall, the decrease in scores was not as great as one might expect after a year of quarantined learning.
Though demographic breakdowns of results have not yet been released for 2021 scores, demographic gaps across racial economic groups are expected to be widened. Studies from groups such as Harvard and Brown, as well as private consulting groups for these researchers, have shown economic and racial gaps widened during the pandemic. Much of learning during quarantine was online, making things more difficult for students without access to the internet, or a stable environment to learn from home. An analysis by one of these consulting groups, McKinsey & Company, found the average student fell behind seven months academically, but the average Latinx student fell behind by nine, and the average Black student fell behind by ten.
Teachers at the Nantucket High School have noted that students are significantly further behind in subjects than where they would typically be. This is especially true for classes based on speaking, like language classes. Though not tested on the MCAS, NHS Spanish teacher Ms. Hickson comments that students are “half a year behind, because there were half as many hours” in the 2020-2021 school year. “And they weren’t all quality hours either… even the best student I have is struggling this year.” Previous “Veritas” articles have covered the phenomenon of students sleeping through or skipping classes during remote learning.
MCAS scores trending down or splitting to have a higher standard deviation as seen in the Mathematics and ELA tests respectively were two trends seen in younger grades as well.
Though some of last year’s Junior class did take MCAS, not all did, and results have not been reported to the same degree as they have for grade 10. There are also no results from previous years to compare their scores to, because allowing Juniors to take the MCAS was an accommodation for their not having taken the tests in their sophomore year. Last year’s Juniors had the opportunity to take the English and Math MCAS if they wanted to. Taking these tests opened up the possible reward of the John and Abigail Adams scholarship to them, if they met certain score requirements.
The John and Abigail Adams scholarship is a merit-based scholarship program that gives money to students who meet certain score and percentage requirements on the Math, English, and STE (in Nantucket’s case, Biology) exams. The scholarship is limited to Massachusetts state schools, offering between 1417 and 1714 dollars in aid, lasting for up to eight semesters. It is a valuable resource for many students looking at state schools.
Last year’s freshmen did take the MCAS Biology exam, but no data on state, district, or school averages was released to students at NHS, nor has the DESE released statistical data on scores. Sophomore Anna Popnikolova commented that even though “[the Bio MCAS] is “probably the toughest MCAS the school has, she felt prepared, because “the whole class felt like it was prepping for it… from the very beginning of the class we were told that everything we’re learning right now is helping us prep.” She was pleased and surprised by her score, which was higher than she expected, especially after taking the biology class mostly from home.
With a year of disappointing, if expected, lower test scores passed, this year’s freshmen and sophomores look to the Spring to see if they can bring the trend back up.
Though scores were down this year, the effects of Covid-19 cannot be overestimated. MCAS taken in the spring of 2022 will be the test to see if we can rebound from the learning debt acquired over quarantine. This test will also be the first to truly show the influence of new administration at the school, as it will be the first test taken with students who have been in person the whole year since Mandy Vasil became Principal of the high school, and Elizabeth Hallett became Superintendent.