MCAS Scores Drop Across Massachusetts

The "next generation" version of the test was designed to be more rigorous.

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The newly redesigned MCAS test proved to be quite the challenge for many of Massachusetts’ public-school students, with scores among the state’s third through eighth graders dropping significantly in some subject areas.

Officials released the first round of results from the state’s Next Generation MCAS on Wednesday, and just half of the test takers’ spring 2017 scores qualified as meeting or exceeding expectations in math and English. Though drop-offs in scores were found across grade levels and subject areas, the largest decline was in eighth-grade English scores. In 2014, the last time the old version of the test was administered statewide, 79 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded expectations in the category. This time around, only 49 percent of students did so.

But the decline isn’t as dire as it may seem. Weighing these scores against the 2014 results is like comparing “apples and oranges,” state Education Secretary James Peyser told CBS. For the first time, many students took the exam on a computer, and the 2017 version of the test was designed to be more difficult, so the lower scores are not surprising. The revamped test assesses a student’s college and career readiness by targeting critical-thinking and knowledge-application skills. The “next generation” exam aims to curb the number of public school graduates who eventually get stuck taking remedial classes in college.

The scoring categories also changed: The new version sorts students based on whether or not they exceeded, met, partially met, or did not meet expectations. In the past, students earned marks of advanced, proficient, needs improvement, or failing.

Consistent with many other districts in the state, Boston Public Schools students scored lower on the 2017 iteration of the test. In 2014, 53 percent of third-graders earned math scores in the top two brackets; this year, just 33 percent did. Similarly, while 63 percent of eighth-graders were declared proficient or higher on the 2014 English test, only 33 percent of eighth-graders crossed that threshold this time.

Despite the drop in scores, officials urged the BPS community not to be disappointed and to view the results within the context of the more rigorous standards.

“We are encouraged that this redesigned test will lead to better academic outcomes for all of our students,” BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang said in a press release. “The scores for the Next Generation MCAS do not mean a student learned less.”