Putting MCAS to the test 

SCORES RELEASED LAST WEEK from the spring 2022 MCAS paint a pretty worrisome picture, showing that student achievement in the state still lags below levels seen on the 2019 test, the last one given before COVID hit, a clear sign of the ongoing impact of pandemic learning loss.

What are the big takeaways from the new results? 

Mary Tamer and Jack Schneider, in a lively discussion on this week’s Codcast, come to very different conclusions.

Tamer, the Massachusetts state director of Democrats for Education Reform, said the results should be a wake-up call to the state’s education establishment. “It’s deeply concerning to me, and I think it continues to illustrate that Massachusetts is a state that likes to rest on its laurels in terms of being number one, but we know that we’re only number one for some,” said Tamer, a former Boston school committee member. “And so when we look at the results for our Black and Brown students, our students with disabilities, and our English learners, I think that it’s very clear that we’re in a crisis,” she said of the yawning achievement gaps that the scores continue to show. 

Tamer says schools and districts can do more, especially with the millions of dollars of pandemic relief money they have, to address these gaps. 

Schneider, an associate professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said it would “make a lot of sense” to hold schools accountable for those gaps “if schools were the primary determinant in student MCAS scores. They’re not. Out-of-school variables are,” he said, pointing to the enormous effects of poverty that schools are asked to overcome.  

In fact, Schneider said, the fact that some groups seem to have suffered even greater learning loss during the pandemic underscores how much out-of-school factors differ for students of different backgrounds. 

He said MCAS scores, which focus on English and math proficiency, should be used to identify where schools need to channel more resources. “But we should not use them in a high-stakes capacity for rendering judgments about schools, because that’s really not what they’re telling us,” he said. “They’re telling us that young people need more support, but they’re not telling us some schools are really great, some schools are really bad, let’s punish the bad ones. That’s just far too simplistic and it ignores everything we know from educational research about these data.” 

The conversation, in many ways, captured the debate that has been underway for years over standardized testing and the state’s accountability system. Tamer thinks it is a valuable approach to holding schools responsible. Schneider, a cofounder of the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, which is studying ways to measure schools on a broader range of variables, argues that MCAS largely captures the effect of out-of-school variables and has been used as a blunt – and unfair – instrument to grade school quality. 

While they each represented classic positions in this long-standing, often contentious, debate, Tamer and Schneider both stopped short of accusing the other of holding the most strident views that the opposing sides often cite in their arguments. 

“I’m not saying Mary is doing this, but there are people who are just sitting around blaming schools for not solving poverty, blaming schools for not having remedied everything that happened to young people during the pandemic when there are all of these opportunities for us to meet young people’s needs after school, on the weekends, over the summer,” said Schneider. 

Tamer pointed to her own sister’s experience at Boston’s English High School where, after missing a month of school, no one had contacted Tamer’s family. “I think what we want to ratchet up is our expectations for our students and their ability to achieve and what is required in order for us to see that happen,” said Tamer. “We cannot ignore poverty, but I feel that there’s this feeling that poor children can’t learn. And I don’t necessarily know if that’s what you’re saying, Jack.” 

“That’s not even remotely what I’m saying,” he said. 

They seemed to agree on one point: That K-12 students in the state – especially students of color, those from low-income households, and other marginalized groups – are not getting all they need from schools. 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Pay boost sought: Home care providers say they need more than one-off salary add-ons to make ends meet. Home health aides currently make $18.27 an hour, while homemakers receive $15.97. Read more.

OPINION

Roadmap for MBTA: James Aloisi, the former transportation secretary, proposes a two-step roadmap for reform of the MBTA that calls for a new governance structure and financial help by having the state pick up the cost of the RIDE and 50 percent of its debt service cost. Read more.

Reform the estate tax: Amy Pitter of the Massachusetts Society of CPAs urges lawmakers to come back in and reform the state’s estate tax to help the state remain competitive. Read more.

Clean power incentives: Gabriel Phillips of Catalyst Power urges businesses to jump into clean power using a new federal law offering hefty incentives. Read more.

Addressing the teacher shortage: Deborah Margolis and Russell Olwell say we can help address the state’s dire teacher shortage by creating a smoother path to permanent certification for the 4,000 teachers who were recently allowed to teach under “emergency” licenses. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has three months left in office, is going out one doughnut and selfie at a time, as he continues to work his way around the state with an eye on local issues, not the Potomac fever that gripped many of his recent predecessors. (Boston Globe

State Rep. David LeBoeuf, now 155 days sober and running for reelection, opens up about his struggles with substance abuse after his highly publicized drunk driving arrest. (Telegram & Gazette)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Since there are hundreds of owners, Great Barrington is having a hard time collecting nearly $200,000 in unpaid property taxes from an abandoned timeshare property. (Berkshire Eagle)

Chicopee pays $125,000 to settle a gender discrimination complaint made by a former firefighter. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The New York Times begins to piece together the story of how Venezuelan migrants got flown by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, including tracking the identity of the woman who migrants said recruited them for the trips. 

ELECTIONS

Anthony Amore is running a fairly lonely race as a moderate Republican in a state where the party higher-ups have swung right. (WBUR)

Adam Reilly at GBH calls out Republican Party chair Jim Lyons for distorting a beating in Somerville for his own political ends. 

The state Libertarian Party aims to gain recognition as a major party in the state, a legal designation based on how many votes the party gets. (Gloucester Daily Times)

More than 230,000 16 and 17-year-olds have pre-registered to vote so they will be eligible to vote as soon as they turn 18. (Eagle-Tribune)

ARTS/CULTURE

“Evicted” exhibit comes to Somerville. (GBH)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The New England Fishery Management Council hears proposals for ways to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Berkshire Eagle editorial takes the Berkshire County district attorney’s office to task for moving ahead with the motor vehicle homicide prosecution of Joe Thompson, the founding director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Thompson was recently acquitted of the charge. 

The SJC is asked to clarify a provision of the Housing Choice law that requires affordable housing developers to post bonds. (Salem News)

Massachusetts has now eliminated all parole and probation fees. (Salem News)

A man is arrested for a housing rental scam targeting undocumented Spanish-speaking immigrants in New Bedford. (Standard-Times)

A trial is set to begin for Dana Pullman, the former president of the state police union charged with stealing union funds. (MassLive)

A federal jury awards a Worcester man $8 million after finding that the Worcester police fabricated evidence that landed him in jail for 16 years. (Telegram & Gazette)