School Board Digests Declining MCAS Scores

October 28, 2022

Most of Bedford’s grade-level scores from last spring’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests slightly declined when compared to the surprisingly high numbers a year earlier.

The details were presented to the School Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, and some members focused their concern on the approximately 30 percent of students whose scores were in the categories of “partially or not meeting expectations.” 

Results were presented by Dr. Tricia Clifford, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, who noted that the Bedford outcomes in general reflect statewide patterns. Clifford punctuated each grade-level category with details about ongoing efforts to strengthen teaching and learning.

The sequence of MCAS results presented was for 2019, 2021, and 2022, expressed in percentages that reflect “meeting or exceeding expectations:”

  • English language arts, grades 3-5: 78-74-69
  • English language arts, grades 6-8: 70-73-68
  • English language arts, grade 10: 71-88-79
  • Mathematics, grades 3-5: 74-65-68
  • Mathematics, grades 6-8: 72-68-69
  • Mathematics grade 10: 79-81-78
  • Science and technology, grade 5: 68-68-71
  • Science and technology, grade 8: 68-59-61

In answer to a question from committee member Dan Brosgol, Clifford acknowledged that the 2021 results – in the midst of the pandemic – were surprisingly high. 

“I’m very careful to speak about reliability because I don’t have the whole picture,” she said, adding, “I think there’s more realism to spring 2022.”

“I’m not leaving here celebrating,” Brosgol said. “I think we should hope for better.” 

Clifford replied, “Overall, I would like to see our achievement levels higher. But I have to balance that with the time and effort I know our teachers are putting in.”

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad noted that “a lot of the initiatives that were delayed are being picked back up, and I believe they are going to lead us to where we want to go.”

Member Ann Guay, focusing on lower-performing students, commented that “we may need to increase learning time for some of these students. Some students really thrived during the pandemic; that simply isn’t the case for everyone. Are there ways we can be more creative in what we do?” Last year, she noted, smaller class sizes and additional teaching staff “really, really helped.”

“I don’t mean to minimize effects of the pandemic. Although achievement data is not where we would like it, I don’t feel alarm,” Clifford said. “I believe in the work of the teachers and the curriculum.” 

She said internal metrics are being used to identify students who need more help. Conrad said the schools’ data lead to “understanding where the challenges are for individual students,” and academic coaches help teachers formulate specific strategies.

Sheila Mehta-Green echoed the concern that “year after year, there are still a bunch of students hanging out in that 30 percent. It is not a good experience for the students, the families, the teachers.” She said she wanted to know “what it is we’re doing and how we’re benchmarking that.”

Clifford agreed that the lower performing percentile is “something that has always concerned me.” 

Conrad emphasized that “we aren’t doing the same things – so much is relatively new.” 

Mehta-Green called for “additional supplemental modules online that students and parents can access year round to make sure they not regressing.” Conrad said that is “a great idea for us to look at.”

Mehta-Green also inquired about demand exceeding supply for special education staff. Clifford acknowledged that during the pandemic needs “increased dramatically.” Conrad said revised scheduling and grouping may relieve some of the pressure on teachers’ time.

He also pointed out that “part of our work around social-emotional learning is about building relationships. So as a teacher, I can extend the learning for you differently because I know you as an individual.”

Brosgol stressed the importance of improving student writing as a component of English Language Arts. 

“The teaching of writing is complicated,” said Clifford. Writing is “something you are always working on.” 

Brosgol recommended giving writing primary emphasis in the schools’ literacy efforts. Clifford pointed out that during the period of remote learning, “our youngest learners were at home, not writing in the same way as in classrooms,” where they can develop skills along with “real-time intervention.”

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