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Boston Public Schools Moves Forward With Plan for Academic Acceleration Following Release of MCAS Results

September 21, 2021 -- Today, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released its annual state assessment results for schools and districts statewide, that highlight the need for the ongoing work related to academic acceleration. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams were administered in limited capacity during the 2020-21 school year as a result of the global pandemic. However, the data underscore the district’s continued effort to close opportunity and achievement gaps for students and address the effects of the global pandemic on student learning. 

DESE administered MCAS in the spring of 2021 in grades 3-8 and 10 in ELA, Math and Science. Students in grades 3-8 were permitted to take MCAS remotely or in-person, while students in grade 10 were required to test in-person due to the state’s graduation requirement. DESE previously announced that the state would not use the data for district accountability purposes, unlike previous years. 

The results demonstrate the need for continued efforts to address academic recovery and to deploy resources to support students and teachers. Utilizing a combination of district and federal relief funds, BPS has directed efforts to ensure students are reconnected with their classmates and teachers after a year of hybrid learning, that their teachers have support in reviewing the data to inform instruction, and that schools have access to curricular materials that are relevant to students and grade-level appropriate. 

“As we welcome all students back to full-time in-person learning, our greatest focus is on establishing connections with their peers and staff in schools. The last year and a half have been disruptive in so many ways, but we know our students are resilient and that this whole City is behind them,” said Boston Mayor Kim Janey. “BPS has new data that shows where there is work to do, resources to provide additional support, and services to accelerate student learning. Boston will continue to make improvements to ensure every child receives equitable access and opportunity to a quality education.”

Results Across BPS:

In grades 3-8, students took only one session of the MCAS. Ninety-one percent (91%) of BPS students in grades 3-8 took the MCAS in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math, with participation by grade level ranging from 87% - 94%.

Thirty-one percent (31%) of tested students met or exceeded expectations in grades 3-8 in ELA, a decrease of 4 percentage points from 2019, which is less than the statewide decline of 6 percentage points. The average scaled score in grades 3-8 ELA was 487.4, a decrease of 4.5 points from 2019 to 2021, which is similar to the statewide decline of 4.7 points.

Twenty percent (20%) of tested students met or exceeded expectations in grades 3-8 in Math, a decrease of 13 percentage points from 2019, which is less than the statewide decline of 16 percentage points. The average scaled score in grades 3-8 Math was 479.5, a decrease of 10.5 points from 2019 to 2021, which is similar to the statewide decline of 9.5 points.

Grade 10 students who did not take the MCAS in spring 2021 will have the opportunity to take the test in fall of 2021. Across BPS, 70% of 10th grade students took the ELA MCAS and 68% of 10th grade students took the Math MCAS. For students who participated in 10th grade MCAS, ELA results were consistent with pre-pandemic performance, while math performance declined from 2019.

“The results released today confirm what we all know, our kids struggled during this pandemic, and it will require an all hands on deck approach to ensure we do everything possible to get them caught up,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “We will continue our investments in supporting our students’ health and well-being, as well as sharpening our focus on accelerating our students' academic achievement. I thank our educators and school staff for their incredible dedication these past 18 months as we continue to ensure our students have everything they need to succeed.”

The district’s response focuses on ensuring students are connected to school; ensuring teachers understand students' academic and social-emotional progress; and ensuring schools have the time and resources to design improvement plans.

To support students’ connection to each other and their schools, BPS has deployed a full-time social worker in every school and a full-time family liaison to every school. These staff members reflect the cultures and languages of the communities they serve and are critical to building supportive relationships with students and families. The district is also expanding the Hub Schools model to provide access to wraparound services for students and families in schools.

Last school year, BPS launched new data tools including Panorama Student Success which enables school-based and district staff to access real-time, actionable and holistic student data, work together to log support notes, and design and monitor Student Success Plans. Starting this school year, BPS will contract with an online vendor that provides 24/7 tutoring support aligned with BPS curriculum and instruction. Also, BPS announced earlier this year a renewed commitment to equitable literacy during the district’s August Leadership Institute, which includes access to new materials and professional development for school leaders and school-based staff.

To monitor student progress, BPS is utilizing the MAP Growth Assessment in Reading and Math, which provides information to schools and educators to help direct additional academic support to students. BPS has provided access to new grade-level culturally appropriate curricular resources and provided yearlong professional development on equitable literacy instruction for the 43 Transformation coaches in order to further support educators. In total, BPS has allocated $2.8 million on instructional materials and professional development. BPS is also investing $3.4 million in upgrades to school libraries to update collections with new, high quality texts. With the adoption of the MassCore curriculum last year, BPS schools are now working toward standard, grade-level, and culturally relevant curriculum and instruction. 

In addition, the district will make significant investments in extended learning through acceleration academies and full-day summer programming that include both academic and enrichment opportunities. 

“The data released today makes it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges that have impacted student learning,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Jeri Robinson. “We have a lot of work ahead to strengthen outcomes for our students. I trust our dedicated educators will ensure that our young people receive the intensive supports they need for continued growth and success.”

BPS plans to report a full analysis of the results to the Boston School Committee at their October 6 meeting.