Belmont MCAS Scores Dip In Covid-19 Year; Performance Exceeds Statewide Results

Photo: MCAS scores in Belmont and statewide slumped.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most recent MCAS test scores for Belmont students took a dip as the district struggled to provide a first rate education model during a worldwide pandemic. But with the exception of a sharp drop in the percentage of elementary and middle school students meeting or exceeding in math, the district performance held its own compared to scores for all Massachusetts students.

While the statewide scores showed some large discrepancies from grade to grade, “Belmont did not see the same degree of [downward] shift,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Yet, Phelan said, “any shift is important to note.”

The statewide MCAS test results from the spring 2021 exam released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Sept. 21 showed many more students had gaps in their knowledge of math and, to a lesser extent, English language arts, compared to students in the same grades before the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer students meet or exceeded grade level expectations.

“Each percentage point is very, very important to us because they represent our students,” said Phelan. ”The real important work is to look at how each student … fared with this testing and use that data.”

“We tend to perform higher than the state average in all categories. So we’re thankful for that. But to be repetitive, we do have our own expectation of Belmont. We need to compare ourselves to what our goals are and that’s the work of the district moving forward,” said Phelan.

(The state did not administer MCAS tests in spring 2020, near the start of the pandemic, so the most recent year to compare with this year’s scores is 2019.)

In Belmont, 76 percent of students in grades 3-8 met Expectations or higher in English language arts in 2021, and 67 percent did so in math. Both of these represent a drop compared to 2019, when 80 percent scored at that level in English language arts and 81 percent did so in math. Still, Belmont’s 67 percent is nearly double the 34 percent of statewide students who are in the top two categories.

For 10th grade English language arts, 88 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher in 2021, compared to 90 percent in 2019. In 10th grade math, 85 percent of students scored Meeting Expectations or higher in 2021, compared to 91 percent in 2019. These represent a slight drop when comparing 2019 to 2021. Like the elementary/middle school grades, Belmont high schoolers continue to exceed the scores of their state compatriots.

Phelan said the MCAS data will now be sent to the district’s academic directors and school principals to discuss how to utilize nearly $150,000 the district put aside to supporting students this year.

Having anticipated a likely drop in math scores in the early grades, Phelan said the district has allocated funds from its ESSR account – money sent by the federal government to school districts during the pandemic – to hire a pair of math coaches at the elementary level who will work primarily with third and fourth grade students. They also will be working at the middle school with students who need support.

Phelan said high school students will have less time to make up the drop in scores, the district will be reinforcing the skills all students have to know and be able to do before they leave Belmont High, said Phelan.

“We’ll be working with those students in those content areas moving forward,” he said.

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