LOWELL — The 2023 MCAS results were released last month and school officials from districts with high performing schools talked about the challenges they have to overcome after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning.
The results of the standardized tests for English/language arts, mathematics and science were largely mixed in comparison to last year’s, with many districts seeing increases in the percentage of students who were scored as “not meeting expectations.” The overall MCAS scores are graded on a rubric that determines whether students in a district are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations and not meeting expectations.
In Lowell, the percentage of students who were not meeting expectations increased slightly in all three subjects for grades 3-8 from 2022 to 2023:
• ELA: 30% to 33%
• Math: 26% to 27%
• Science: 31% to 34%
While the percentage of students who were scored as either meeting or exceeding expectations remained roughly the same from last year for grades 3-8 in Lowell, with 26% in English and math and 22% in science, the percentage of students that partially met expectations decreased:
• ELA: 45% to 42%
• Math: 49% to 47%
• Science: 46% to 44%
While the grade 10 tests generally result in more students meeting or exceeding expectations, in Lowell that percentage also decreased slightly for the high school test:
• ELA: 42% to 41%
• Math: 30% to 28%
• Science: 34% to 20%
In addition to the general MCAS data, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a list of the top 66 performing schools in the state, which included metrics like growth and achievement in MCAS scores, reductions in chronic absenteeism and progress of multilingual learners.
Though Lowell performed relatively poorly in overall MCAS scores, the city did have one school appear in the top 66: the Charles W. Morey Elementary School. Principal Kathleen McLaughlin said Morey students improved in just about all metrics.
“But most remarkably in mathematics, reduction in chronic attendance rates, and the MCAS growth percentiles of our fourth graders,” McLaughlin said in an Oct. 16 email.
McLaughlin said that the Morey, and just about every school, is still thinking about the impacts of the pandemic on learning.
“There were definite learning gaps that happened due to school closure which could be remediated through instruction. However, many other things happened during the pandemic that are not as simple as teaching something that someone missed,” said McLaughlin. “The amount of loss that our children experienced (a family’s loss of income, the severe illness or death of a loved one, a family’s loss of housing, the loss of the structure and socialization of school and activities) created trauma that requires time, support, and specialized instruction.”
While the number of students not meeting expectations remained roughly the same from last year to this year, Billerica Public Schools saw improvements in the number of students in grades 3-8 meeting or exceeding expectations on the MCAS test:
• ELA: 41% to 45%
• Math: 39% to 41%
• Science: 41% to 42%
For Billerica 10th-graders however, there was a noticeable decline in the number of students meeting or exceeding expectations from 2022 to 2023 in all three subjects:
• ELA: 65% to 58%
• Math: 60% to 50%
• Science: 68% to 66%
Billerica also had Dutile Elementary School appear on the list of top schools, which Assistant Superintendent Marian Dyer said is something that “takes the effort of everybody in the building.”
“We are proud of all the work they’ve done to achieve those targets. The data shows high percentages of points for all students, including the lowest performing students,” said Dyer.
Overall, Billerica schools are mostly in line with the statewide data, Dyer said.
“It indicates that our students aren’t facing bigger challenges than the state, but also are not outpacing its growth,” said Dyer.
When it comes to the impact of the pandemic on learning, Dyer said that has been most reflected in math scores.
“Math is so much practice, practice, practice, more so than other subjects,” said Dyer. “It shows the impact of the loss of instructional time, we try to make up for it.”
Fitchburg Public Schools saw more mixed results from its overall MCAS scores, with notable improvements in the average for grades 3-8:
• ELA: 28% to 30%
• Math: 21% to 25%
• Science: 22% to 24%
The percentage of Fitchburg students not meeting expectations also decreased or remained the same for those grade levels:
• ELA: 28% to 30%
• Math: 31% to 31%
• Science: 37% to 29%
For grade 10 Fitchburg students, however, the trend was in the opposite direction for English and math:
• ELA: 32% to 30%
• Math: 24% to 21%
• Science: 14% to 25%
Fitchburg Public Schools Interim Superintendent Jon Thompson said in an Oct. 20 email that the district is “dedicated to closing the achievement gap for all students.”
“While there were some areas where our students improved in achievement and growth, there were also areas that indicated a need for further support and attention. The district recognizes the significance of these results and the concerns they might raise regarding the education of students,” said Thompson. “It’s essential to understand that while MCAS scores provide valuable data, they are just one of many tools we use to measure our students’ success. The Fitchburg Public Schools believes in looking at the overall growth, well-being and capabilities of our students.”
The North Middlesex Regional School District saw some slight declines in the number of students in grades 3-8 meeting or exceeding expectations in math and science, while ELA stayed the same:
• ELA: 45% to 45%
• Math: 38% to 36%
• Science: 45% to 44%
For North Middlesex 10th-graders, the drop was slightly greater for meeting and exceeding expectations:
• ELA: 71% to 67%
• Math: 55% to 46%
• Science: 67% to 54%
Despite the overall decline, North Middlesex also had a school featured on the top 66 list with Ashby Elementary. Principal Anne Cromwell-Gapp said that in her two decades with the school, this is the third time it has been featured on the list of top schools in the state, the other two times being 2009 and 2010.
“It is a whole school effort, not just the third and fourth grade,” said Cromwell-Gapp. “We educate them starting in kindergarten. We teach kids to be critical thinkers, and we do a lot of collaborative work. It all goes back to mastery of knowledge and skills, and building character.”
Now that pandemic shutdowns are over, Cromwell-Gapp said elementary schools have had to contend with a population of kids that had never experienced a normal school year, but for Ashby Elementary, reversing the impact is trending positively.
“Things are definitely going upwards, and MCAS is only a piece of the puzzle,” said Cromwell-Gapp.
Littleton Public Schools had Littleton Middle School on the top 66 list, and showed growth from 2022 to 2023 overall for students meeting or exceeding expectations in grades 3-8:
• ELA: 56% to 63%
• Math: 49% to 54%
• Science: 59% to 64%
For 10th-graders in Littleton, the results were more mixed, though the district is high performing to begin with. While the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations declined for English and math, the number of students not meeting expectations also declined to among the lowest in the state for all three subjects.
For meeting and exceeding expectations among Littleton 10th-graders from 2022 to 2023:
• ELA: 81% to 77%
• Math: 74% to 71%
• Science: 76% to 77%
For 10th-graders not meeting expectations:
• ELA: 3% to 1%
• Math: 7% to 1%
• Science: 6% to 3%
Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Clenchy said in a Sept. 22 statement that Littleton Middle School being recognized as a top school in the state is “extremely appreciated” by the whole district.
“Littleton Middle School’s success and high performance is a result of the determination, passion, and commitment of the staff, students, and community members who work every day to make LMS a great place to learn,” said Clenchy.