Wareham’s MCAS scores don’t tell the whole story, administrators say

Dec 16, 2021

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb spoke to the School Committee about the district’s 2021 MCAS results at the Dec. 15 meeting and emphasized that the results are not the most accurate way to understand students’ learning. 

Schwamb noted that it has been well-established through research that standardized tests are biased against non-white, low income students and those with special needs — like many of the students in Wareham Schools. 

She said that the MCAS assessment was a way to diagnose student learning, which the district looks at in tandem with various internal assessments.

Schwamb quoted from “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi: “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade minds. Americans have been led to believe that intelligence is like body weight, that different intellectual levels can be measured on a single, standardized weight scale. Our faith in standardized tests causes us to believe that the racial gap in test scores means something is wrong with the test-takers, and not with the tests. These measures can cast judgments on our educators, leaders, and our families.”

She went on to quote Kendi asking whether standardized tests — part of an effort to narrow achievement gaps — have, in fact, further entrenched inequities in the country’s schools.

She also noted that because students took an abbreviated version of the exams this year, this year’s results can’t be compared directly with the results from 2019, which was the last time the students took MCAS tests. 

In Wareham, 67.3 percent of students are low-income, 25.9 have a disability, and 72.8 are high needs. (High needs students, per the state, are low income, have a disability, or are or were English language learners.)

Schwamb said the schools conduct their own assessments that more accurately measure students’ learning. 

In light of the MCAS results, the school district has taken several steps: Teachers and staff are focusing in their professional development on social-emotional learning and creating differentiated and rigorous teaching practices. 

Social workers and intervention specialists have been hired to help kids catch up. Schwamb noted that a new teacher focused on helping kids catch up at the Middle School is so beloved that students run to his class. And the schools have scheduled plenty of time for extra help. 

The district is also looking closely at its math programs, assessments, software, and professional development. Schwamb noted that students statewide seem to be struggling with math. 

In summation, Schwamb said, MCAS results shouldn’t be seen as a definitive measure of student success in Wareham. She said that, if it were up to her, the most important assessments of students would be performance-based.

“It shouldn’t be the single factor,” agreed School Committee member Kevin Brogioli.