Latest MCAS scores are troubling

Luckily for 10th graders, state is grading on a curve

THE STATE released its latest MCAS results on Tuesday, and the scores seem alarming.

According to the Boston Globe, 61 percent of 10th graders statewide met or exceeded expectations on the new, more rigorous English exam, while the percentage was 59 percent on the tougher math exam put in place. Both percentages were well below the levels from 2018, when 91 percent of 10th graders scored proficient or advanced on the old English MCAS and 78 percent scored at that level on the old math test.

Luckily for the students, the state for the time being has is grading on a steep curve to maintain the same pass rate as in previous years. According to the Globe, that meant setting  the passing score at the upper end of the “not meeting expectations” category, the lowest of the four categories. As a result, 87 percent of students passed the English, math, and science MCAS tests, the same percentage as last year.

“The lower bar will be in effect for at least two years, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider a request Tuesday to keep it there for a third year,” the Globe reported. “Eventually, the state wants to raise the bar so it reflects what students actually need to know to do well in college.”

Jeff Riley, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said he wants to slowly transition to the new testing system.

“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.”

The Globe concludes the new test is just plain harder than the old one, so scores dropped. That’s a logical conclusion, but one could also argue that teachers were used to teaching to the old test, and now they’re having to shift their approach with the new test.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

By the way, the Globe’s glass-half-empty coverage of the test results was quite different from the way other news outlets covered them.  The WBUR headline said “latest scores on new state test show some improvement — but racial gaps remain.” The Telegram & Gazette reported that MCAS scores showed little change across central Massachusetts. And MassLive reported that Massachusetts schools are seeing a modest increase in test scores.

Maybe it’s time to simplify the way these test scores are interpreted, so everyone’s on the same page.