ORLEANS — The Nauset Regional School Committee will meet virtually on Thursday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. to review results from the 2023 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) for the Nauset Public Schools.
The Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reports that about 3 percent of the students at Nauset High School (about six students in each grade) “did not meet expectations” in 2023 — about the same as last year’s results. That number is low compared to the statewide average of 11 percent of students not meeting expectations.
The state requires that all students in schools receiving public funds take the MCAS tests in grades 3 through 8 and then again in grade 10. Passing the grade 10 exam is required to graduate from high school.
Regional school committee chair Chris Easley said he sees the standardized test as a tool. “It provides feedback on how well a school is doing to get children involved in education, particularly ones with high need,” he said.
Nauset High Principal Patrick Clark agreed, saying that the school uses the results as part of a larger review of curricula and student performance over time.
Meanwhile, teachers across the state argue that passing the test should be dropped as a graduation requirement. That effort is being led by the Mass. Teachers Association (MTA). A coalition led by the Mass. Business Alliance for Education opposes the teachers’ effort.
As of early November, the teachers’ union had collected more than 115,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative that would put the graduation requirement question to voters next year.
MTA President Max Page and Business Alliance Director Ed Lambert debated the issue on Nov. 9 at an event hosted by Boston College Law School.
Page argued that for the past 20 years public school and college educators have maintained that “it is educational malpractice to judge students in schools with a one-time test score,” according to a report in Boston College’s newspaper, The Heights. Page said studies have shown that grades reflect students’ abilities better and are less biased against students of color and those from lower-income households than standardized tests.
Lambert argued that race-related differences in test scores reflect “achievement gaps,” according to The Heights. Lambert also argued that the tests have actually boosted high school graduation rates, overall academic achievement, and post-high school success across all demographics, citing statistics from a Brown University study on the effects of Mass. education reform.
Page disputes these supposed benefits. “All the focused test prep, and all the time wasted on preparing for this test, has not had the impact that so-called ‘ed reformers’ want,” he told WBUR. “And it’s time now to change it.”
Massachusetts is one of eight states that require students to pass a standardized test to graduate from high school. Students must earn passing scores on the grade 10 math and English exams and one science and technology/engineering test.
The Nauset Schools administration is “neutral” on the debate over the graduation requirement, said Interim Assistant Superintendent Johanna Hughes. She also said that the issues motivating the debate mainly affect urban districts, not the local schools.
Principal Clark said that “great teachers and great curriculum” deserve the credit for the school’s better-than-average results.
No one from the Nauset Education Association, the MTA’s local branch, returned calls from a reporter for comment.
Nauset High senior Ali Hawk said that, other than teachers occasionally mentioning in class that a certain topic might come up on the MCAS, she doesn’t recall teachers providing any specific preparation period for the test.
Hawk said she remembers taking the MCAS for the last time over two days in the school gym. That was in her sophomore year, and the test was nothing new: she had sat for MCAS tests in English, math, and science every spring from 3rd to 8th grade. But the stress surrounding it stands out in her mind.
“In elementary school and middle school, everyone was really scared of the MCAS,” she said. “Even in high school, some of my friends were anxious about it.”
“The MCAS is just one indicator in one day of a kid’s life,” said Gerry Goyette, superintendent of the Provincetown IB Schools. “It doesn’t take into effect whether the kid is hungry, whether there was a fight at home, what happened on the bus, how they’re doing emotionally.”