Pandemic’s impact on learning cited; ‘high expectations’ urged for ’21-’22
School administrators and School Committee members are overall disappointed with the latest round of MCAS results. At the same time, they acknowledged during this week’s committee meeting that the 2020-2021 school year posed serious challenges to student learning due to the pandemic and that plans are in place to help students achieve higher scores in future years, as has been the case in the past.
Director of Curriculum and Assessment Dr. Mary Merrigan presented an overview of the test, followed by the presentation of results for their individual schools by Hull High School Principal Nicole Nosek, Memorial Middle School Principal Tony Hrivnak, and Jacobs School Principal Christine Cappadona.
“MCAS provides a lens into – and a measure of – our academic program,” Merrigan said. “The pandemic created a headwind that slowed achievement and growth for many students [statewide as well as in Hull]. Now we need to move forward and address the [resulting] learning gaps to support our students.”
The main concern centered around data indicating that in several different grades the Hull Public Schools fell behind the state in the percentage of students who scored in the “exceeding expectations” category when in the past that was not the case.
School Committee Chair David Twombly noted, however, that while the middle school numbers “were not good,” if the Jacobs and high school “exceeding” and “meeting” expectations results were combined, those students “did pretty well” when compared with the state statistics. The other categories are “partially meeting” and “not meeting” expectations.
Twombly found the results “not surprising,” in light of the pandemic, but disappointing nonetheless. “With the resources we have invested in educating our students, I would expect that they would exceed the state level [of achievement],” Twombly said. “The results show the importance of kids being in school, which wasn’t the case for middle school students during the pandemic,” while Jacobs elementary students followed the in-person model.
However, Twombly added, “It is what it is. I expect that a lot of school districts are in the same boat.”
HHS Principal Nicole Nosek explained that members of the class of 2023 were required to pass “this high-stakes test in order to graduate.” There was only one high school student in the class of 2023 who failed to pass the MCAS. She also noted that this is the first “normal” school year for these students in their high school experience, and, in some areas, they fared well on the MCAS.
Hrivnak observed that, in general, middle school students “were on par with the overall state results in English language arts and math,” with some scoring higher and some lower than the state percentages.
Twombly suggested that Merrigan provide a progress report at a future committee meeting, likely early in 2022. “Next year the expectations will be higher, and we will want to exceed the state numbers. I don’t want to sound the alarm, but this is an important issue,” he said.
At the same time, Twombly emphasized that “the administration and the School Committee are a team. We share in their success, but if things aren’t going so well, it’s not all on their shoulders. The School Committee supports our administrators and needs to give them the tools for success.”
School Committee member Kyle Conley, while acknowledging the academic challenges of the past year and a half, emphasized the importance of maintaining “high expectations.”
Member Ernest Minelli indicated that he is not as concerned about the scores as some others are “because I know there will be an opportunity to close [the resulting] learning gaps.”
Member Jennifer Fleming said a benefit from students being required to take the test during a particularly challenging school year is that “we know where our students [stand at this time]. Hopefully scores will trend upward [as in prior years],” she said. “I have faith in our students and in our schools to improve this data.”
Merrigan and the principals outlined plans to help students make up for lost learning time experienced during the pandemic, including providing accelerated educational opportunities, focusing on social-emotional issues, and helping younger students who were kept 6 feet apart last year as part of the COVID-19 safety protocols that were in place to learn how to share.
“I believe we have children in our building who worked hard and are smart, but for some reason didn’t place in the ‘exceeding expectations’ [category],” Cappadona said.
She expressed disappointment in the lower-than-expected scores “because everyone worked so hard last year to fill any learning gaps.” The goal now, according to Cappadona, is “to move our students forward.”
The Galileo assessment system, which Merrigan said is aligned with the MCAS tests, will continue to be a tool used by teachers.
“It’s all about effort – trying harder and giving the kids lots of feedback around how they are doing and hearing from them what it’s like to be enrolled in [the HPS] instructional program,” she said.
In other business at the meeting:
* HHS students Parry Harper and Troy Healey were presented with certificates by School Superintendent Judith Kuehn for being recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program for their outstanding scores on the junior PSATs, placing among the 50,000 highest-scoring participants nationwide of all juniors who took the exam in Fall 2020.
* HHS seniors Stella Gianadda and Troy Healey were recognized as recipients of the National School Development Council Academic Growth and Student Leadership in Learning Award for consistently pursuing a high level of academic effort and for serving as positive role models for fellow students.
* Parry Harper was recognized for earning the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents award for his class standing, cumulative grade average, class rank, and leadership.
Following the presentation of the awards, Twombly commended the students, as well as their parents, who were invited to the meeting, for their role. “Behind every good student is a good parent,” he said.