88 percent pass MCAS, but achievement gaps remain
BOSTON (AP) — Nearly nine in 10 high school sophomores passed the standardized MCAS exam on their first try this year, state education officials said Friday, though achievement gaps persisted and several schools in the state’s largest cities were in danger of failing.
Passing the 10th-grade MCAS, short for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, has been a graduation requirement for high school students for the past 11 years.
According to statewide scores released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 88 percent of students in the class of 2016 met minimum testing requirements in English, mathematics and science. The percentage was unchanged from a year ago, but up from 86 percent in 2012. In 2003, the first year of the test, only 68 percent passed.
The state also announced that six schools — three in Springfield, two in Boston and one in Worcester — had been added to the list of Level 4 “underperforming” schools. Those schools must now develop turnaround plans and could be subject to a state takeover if they don’t demonstrate improvement.
Four schools that had previously been Level 4 were taken off the list after showing progress, including the Jeremiah Burke High School in Boston, two Springfield elementary schools, and one Worcester elementary school.
The test scores show a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and minority students over the past seven years, officials said.
In 2007, 47 percent of black students, 43 percent of Latino students and 77 percent of white students scored proficient or higher in English. On the most recent tests, 79 percent of blacks, 76 percent of Latinos and 94 percent of whites were proficient or higher. In math, however, the differences remained more pronounced.
Gov. Deval Patrick, in a statement, credited the overall improvement on collaborative efforts between schools and students, “but as achievement gaps still persist, we must continue to invest in education so that each student has the chance to succeed.”
Officials expressed renewed concern about the glaring lack of improvement in reading scores on MCAS exams taken by younger students. The percentages of third- and fourth-graders scoring proficient or higher on the test had actually dropped slightly from 2007.
“This is an area we are very much focused on, “said Mitchell Chester, the state’s education commissioner.
Chester also noted that four middle schools currently designated as Level 4 — one in Boston and three others in Springfield — had not shown an “improvement trajectory” and were in imminent danger of sinking from Level 4 to Level 5 and into possible receivership.
The Massachusetts chapter of the group Families for Excellent Schools said it was dismayed that in 40 of Boston’s schools, less than one-third of students were at grade level in reading or math.
Lawrence is the state’s only school district currently in receivership, though Chester said test scores pointed to improvement in that city.
About 80,000 students in Massachusetts participated in a tryout of the PARCC test this year, Mitchell said, as the state continued its implementation of Common Core academic standards.
In 2015, school districts will have the option of administering PARCC — short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — or MCAS for students in Grades 3-9 and Grade 11. But all 10th graders will still be required to take MCAS.