COVID-19 a factor in the findings
Hull High School received a passing grade on this year’s Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education school report card, despite problems posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The DESE issues a yearly report card to schools that provides a wealth of information, with seven categories and around 20 subcategories. It addresses subjects ranging from attendance to college-bound rates and everything in between and compares the school’s statistics to that of the district and state.
An Accountability Percentile shows “how a school is performing overall compared to other schools that administer similar MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] tests,” according to the report card.
“It’s sort of like the all-encompassing accountability,” explained HHS Principal Nicole Nosek. Hull High School earned a 40 on that section, meaning that the school performs better than 39 percent of schools statewide.
Every year the state sets improvement targets for each school. They involve English learner progress, high school completion, advanced coursework completion, and other goals. Hull High School was marked as making moderate progress toward targets.
Nosek said that to improve its scores the school needs to “identify where we’re at, because this year has been so different.”
She explained that teachers need to “really dig in and see where there might be learning gaps” as a result of the students having missed school or received lower-quality instruction while learning remotely.
One of the school’s strong points was the percentage of ninth-graders passing all their courses; a total of 93.7 percent passed all their courses in Hull, compared with 83.7 percent statewide.
School Superintendent Judith Kuehn said that the high percentage was “why it was so important to get those freshmen in, to continue that trend. Because research shows that if students fail their freshman year, they’re off track for graduation, and they give up, and they have a tendency to drop out.” The ninth-graders were brought back to school four days a week for that very reason – to increase their chances of passing all their classes.
A challenge shown by the report card is the high school’s struggle with attendance. In 2018, the average student in Hull missed 6.9 more days than the average student in Massachusetts overall. In 2019, it was 6.3 more days. In 2020, the average Hull student missed 7.5 days compared with the 5.7 average of Massachusetts overall.
“Attendance is important, and it plays into graduation,” said Kuehn. “We do definitely have to work on getting kids to school more.”
Kuehn maintains that the school makes a major effort to bring more students to school. “We go to the door; we offer transportation; we pick them up; we give them a late start to the day; we’ll feed them breakfast,” she noted.
Nosek said that the attendance issue has been “ongoing for many, many years. … It has improved in the last several years.”
She also said that the data are somewhat skewed because “attendance wasn’t really tracked in the spring when everyone went fully remote” and that excused absences were counted as missed days, which “is a little unfair.”
Hull appears to be doing well with MassCore Completion given the percentage of graduates who complete MassCore, a program of studies that includes the following: four years of English, four years of math, three years of a lab-based science, three years of history, two years of the same foreign language, one year of an arts program, and five additional “core” courses.
“Our MassCore is the basic level of requirements you have to meet,” said Nosek. “Our expectations have always been higher than MassCore, so that’s something we’re proud of.”
Additionally, the report card shows that Hull has a high level of students completing advanced coursework: 72.7 percent of HHS 11th– and 12th– graders are completing at least one advanced course, compared with a state average of 65.7 percent.
Nosek attributed Hull’s high percentage of students taking AP classes to students having “the opportunity to take AP courses if they don’t meet the academic availability. You can file a waiver to take an AP course.”
On the flip side, Hull earned a low grade on student access to the arts. In Hull, 51 percent of students participate in an arts course, compared with 80.7 percent of students who participate in an arts course statewide.
“As a small school, we are able to offer some allied arts, but not as many as a giant school. As a small school, it may look like we’re way below the state, but that’s due to our size,” Nosek said.
The report card can be viewed at https://reportcards.doe.mass.edu/2020/01420505