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Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: Students see marked decline in MCAS scores



MALDEN – Today, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released statewide MCAS test results from the spring 2021 exam. Results show that many more students had gaps in their knowledge of math and, to a lesser extent, English language arts, compared to students in the same grades before the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer students meet or exceeded grade level expectations.

The state did not administer MCAS tests in spring 2020, near the start of the pandemic, so the most recent year to compare with this year’s scores is 2019.

Overall, 46 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored Meeting Expectations or higher in English language arts in 2021, and 33 percent did so in math. Both of these represent a drop compared to 2019, when 52 percent scored at that level in English language arts and 49 percent did so in math.

For 10th grade English language arts, 64 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher compared to 61 percent in 2019. In 10th grade math, 52 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher, compared to 59 percent in 2019.

“The MCAS tests administered in the spring provide Massachusetts educators and families with critical insight into where students did not progress academically, and the results clearly illustrate how the disrupted school year of remote and hybrid learning impacted students’ academic achievement,” said Secretary of Education James Peyser. “We will continue to work with districts to support efforts to regain learning that did not happen and promote student success and educational equity.”

“This data will help shed light on where additional support is most needed and as districts determine how to best use federal relief funds and state aid, these results can help inform their approach,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “DESE will continue to work with districts to remediate learning and provide opportunities to students in programs like Acceleration Academies and others.”

Massachusetts school districts will receive approximately $2.8 billion in state and federal pandemic relief money in the three and a half years between the 2021-22 school year and fall 2024. The money is primarily in the form of federal coronavirus relief funds, and districts can spend it on a wide-range of priorities in order to meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs resulting from the pandemic.

As districts work to help students make grade-level progress, DESE’s resources for districts have included the Acceleration Roadmap, which emphasizes the importance of understanding students’ strengths and needs and the use of just-in-time supports so that students can learn grade-appropriate material. The roadmap also prioritizes fostering a sense of belonging for students in school and working closely with families.

Families will receive their child’s MCAS scores after September 30. Families of students who were in grades 3-8 in the spring should keep in mind that those students were given shorter than usual tests, which can cause individual student performance to vary more than usual as compared to previous years. These variations even out as groups of students are aggregated, but the difference is worth keeping in mind when viewing individual results. Families should also remember that MCAS results are only one measure of their child’s growth and achievement.

Due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, and following a vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in June, DESE is not issuing new accountability determinations for districts and schools this year. (Accountability designations take into account MCAS scores, MCAS growth, graduation rates, attendance, and other measures.) Districts and schools will retain the accountability designation they had before the pandemic, and DESE will resume making accountability designations in 2022.

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