MCAS data shows OR High School ahead, Junior High slipping slightly
Principals Silas Coellner, of ORR Junior High, and Mike Devoll, of ORR High School, presented last year’s MCAS results for their respective schools at an Old Rochester School Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Overall, the results were mixed with the junior high showing some regression from 2019’s results and the High School largely holding steady despite pandemic-related challenges.
Superintendent Michael Nelson emphasized that the state-wide test is only one of many data points that the schools use to track the progress of their students, but expressed his pride in the results and the job that the schools have done to maintain high standards of learning despite the challenges of covid.
“The MCAS is not new to us, but we know that the context and the overall purpose of the MCAS was quite different last year,” said Nelson at the Dec. 8 meeting. “The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education correctly predicted that there would be statewide dips in scores compared to previous data sets. Here in the Tri-Town we saw some instances of this dip, but actually overall, we are extremely proud of the efforts our school community made last year.”
The state Department of Education cancelled MCAS in 2020, and modified the test this year, allowing students to take it for only one session either in-school or at home.
The MCAS are scored in four categories. Students are ranked as “exceeding expectations,” “meeting expectations,” “partially meeting expectations,” or “not meeting expectations.”
In the junior high, English Language Arts scores fell significantly. In 2021, 49% of OR Junior High students met or exceeded expectations on the test, down from 74% in 2019 and 66% in 2018. The state average for the subject was 46% meeting or exceeding expectations, down from 52% in 2019 and 51% in 2018.
Math scores seemed to be hit the hardest by the pandemic. In 2021, an average of 34% of OR Junior High students met or exceeded expectations, down from 64% in 2019 and 65% in 2018. The data matches this year’s state average of 34% meeting or exceeding expectations, which is down from 49% in 2019 and 48% in 2018.
On the Science and Technology portion of the test, OR Junior High’s scores fell from 2019, but remained well above the state average. In 2021, 54% of students met or exceeded expectations on the test, down from 63% in 2019. The state average for 2021 was 41%, down from 46% in 2019.
In a Sippican Week analysis of statewide MCAS results, OR Junior High was found to be in the 61st percentile of Massachusetts elementary and middle schools based on an average of the meeting or exceeding expectations rates in all subjects. It was in the 81st percentile in 2019, meaning that the school declined relative to other schools during the pandemic.
In discussing the scores, Principal Coellner pointed out that the transition from sixth to seventh grade was a big step in students’ academic careers which was made all the more difficult during the pandemic.
“I would say that’s where we got hurt the most [in terms of MCAS scores],” he said.
At OR High School, English Language Arts scores actually rose slightly this year. In 2021, 82% of high school students met or exceeded expectations on the test, up from 81% in 2019. The state average for the subject was 64% meeting or exceeding expectations, up from 61% in 2019.
Principal Devoll said that the increase was a great sign, considering the difficulty of the year.
“I am supremely impressed that we were able to surpass a regular school year in 2019 in terms of our meeting and exceeding expectations percentage,” he said.
The English language arts and mathematics portions of the high school MCAS test are taken only by 10th grade students, while the science portion is taken by freshmen only.
On the math portion of the test, OR High School students regressed slightly from 2019. In 2021, 69% of students met or exceeded expectations, down from 73% in 2019. However, scores declined by less than the state average. Overall, an average of 52% of Massachusetts high school students met or exceeded expectations on the test, down from 58% in 2019.
The Science MCAS is still given to high school students in its legacy format which uses a different scale with “Advanced” as the highest category, followed by “Proficient,” then “Needs improvement,” and finally “Warning/failing.”
On the science test, OR again improved the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in defiance of overall trends elsewhere in the state.
In 2021, 91% of ORRHS students who took the science test scored in the Advanced or Proficient categories, up from 83% in 2019 and 80% in 2018. The state average, on the other hand, dropped from 73% in 2018 and 2019 to 67% last year.
“This one is so impressive to me… These were ninth graders last year whose first year of high school was done during a pandemic with hybrid and remote schedules,” said Devoll. “This is the best data we’ve had in four years.”
Devoll also emphasized the size of the school’s achievement in getting 99% of eligible students to take the test, despite having to navigate complicated logistics around hybrid and remote learning schedules.
In Sippican Week’s analysis of statewide MCAS results, OR High School was found to be in the 80th percentile of Massachusetts high schools based on an average of the meeting or exceeding expectations rates in all subjects. It was in the 79th percentile in 2019, meaning that the school improved its standing relative to other schools during the pandemic.