FRAMINGHAM – Across the state, third- to eighth-graders scored slightly better on the English and math categories than last year on the revamped Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), according to new numbers released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday.
According to the new school accountability system the state introduced last year, districts are mostly performing better overall. Again, more than two-thirds of all school were found to be “improving or better” under that system, which considers factors beyond test scores. Jeff Riley, state commissioner of education, said no new schools or districts will be assigned the under-performing designation this year.
"We're giving folks a little breathing room as we all figure this out," said Riley in a phone call with reporters Monday. "I think the switch over to the next generation is one where I kind of want to give folks time to get grounded in it."
On the English/language arts category in all grades, the percentage of students meeting expectations rose from 51% last year to 52% this year. Experts saw improvement especially in third-graders, where students who met expectations or higher rose to 56%, up 4 percentage points from last year.
Robert Lee, MCAS chief analyst, said the increase was largely due to higher scores on the essay portion, where scores rose by almost a point per essay.
"Students were doing a more thorough job of writing out their answer," said Lee. "That might be a sign of things to come in the future."
Meanwhile, sixth graders earned the distinction of being the first grade from third to eighth to have more than 50% of students meet expectations or higher, as students to meet expectations or higher rose 4 percentage points to 51%. Answers on open response scores were also up 7%.
INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Find out how your school did on the 2019 MCAS
Last spring, students in the third to eighth grades took for the first time what is being referred to as the Next Generation MCAS in the English/language arts and mathematics categories. This year, high school students also took the new test.
Scoring for the new test falls into four categories: Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations and Not Meeting Expectations.
Sixty-seven schools were recognized for high achievement, growth, and exceptional performance relate to their improvement targets, including Haynes Elementary School in Sudbury.
But an achievement gap among students of different races persists, according to the numbers. While 93% of white students in the class of 2019 were eligible to graduate after their first attempt, just 71% of Hispanic students and 78% of African American students earned the same distinction.
"I think we’ve been very clear that Massachusetts has been designated as one of the top performing states in the country. But when you look more closely at that data, we’re only number 1 for some and some major achievement gaps still exist. We are going to work to figure out how to reduce the size of those achievement gaps...I think we’re looking at multiple ways to close the achievement gap and it will be our major priority," said Riley.
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Riley said school officials especially have an eye on initiatives to diversify teaching staff in the state, saying that research shows minority students benefit from seeing teachers who look like themselves.
"We’ve seen many examples at school and district level where achievement gaps have been closed. It’s doable, and to assume otherwise would be incorrect. It takes a lot of people getting on board to solve some of these problems," said Riley.
Zane Razzaq writes about education. Reach her at 508-626-3919 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.