“We are pleased to be trending in the right direction,” Acting Superintendent Hashem says of latest results
By Mark E. Vogler
SAUGUS – In a 2023 “Official Accountability Report” issued this week by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Saugus Public Schools was evaluated as making “Moderate Progress toward targets.” The report was posted on the DESE website and linked to the release of the latest Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results, which showed improvement at the grade 10 achievement level for English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science/Technology.
“While we have work ahead, we are pleased with our progress,” Acting Schools Superintendent Michael Hashem said in a statement to The Saugus Advocate.
“As the commissioner [Jeffrey C. Riley] mentioned yesterday, the state is still dealing with a learning loss caused by the pandemic. We are pleased to be trending in the right direction,” Hashem said.
Hashem and his staff plan to present a detailed analysis to the School Committee at its Oct. 19th meeting. But Hashem had already reviewed the MCAS scores and was willing to share some highlights, particularly for the progress achieved at the High School level. “The accountability percentile for Saugus High School that was 15 in 2017, putting the school in targeted assistance, has risen to 24 in 2023,” Hashem said.
But the High School, which was ranked as significantly underperforming back six years ago, is no longer requiring assistance or intervention by DESE. “This was accomplished in part by our high school scores related to the student percentage of meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA, math, and science. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA in 2023 is 56% up 8% from last year and just 2% below the state average versus 10% below in 2022,” Hashem said.
“Similarly in math in 2023 the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations was 46% up 10% from 2022 and within 4% of the state average versus 14% below in 2022,” he said.
“Lastly, science has gone up to 45% of the student percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations up from 9% for 2022, and within 2% of the state average versus 11% below in 2022,” he said.
Hashem noted that the district also reached close to the state average of the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations at grades 3 to 8.
“For ELA, Saugus students are within 4% of the state average, for math within 3% of the state average, and for the science grades 5 and 8, 2% above the state average,” he said.
“As we attempt to move all students towards meeting the standards, we used those data points, (percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations), for our initial reflection. We will be continuing to work with students on a daily basis to review real time data to drive our instruction,” he said.
The progress made by Saugus Public Schools during the release of the latest MCAS scores comes at a challenging time for the school district. Hashem continues to preside over a challenged school system indefinitely, filling in for Superintendent Erin McMahon, who has been on paid administrative leave since January, pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged misconduct. McMahon would have been heading into her third year of a five-year plan to move the school district from the bottom 10 percent of academic performing schools to the top 10 percent, based on the district’s ranking against the state in performance on Math and Reading scores in the MCAS Exam.
While overall MCAS results are still lower than they were in 2019, results in English language arts (ELA) scores and math were level or improved in all grades compared to 2022, according to DESE.
The MCAS is one of the most highly regarded and rigorous state assessments in the nation, and results appear to indicate that Massachusetts students’ academic achievement is beginning to rebound from the pandemic, even as some reports have suggested a continued national slide in achievement. “Pandemic learning loss is a national problem, but these results show signs of recovery thanks to the hard work of educators, students, families, and staff,” said Education Secretary Patrick A. Tutwiler. “We know there is still much to be done, and we will continue to improve and strengthen our schools until every student can access the supports and resources they need to succeed.”
Districts continue to use federal COVID relief funds, increased state funding from the Student Opportunity Act, and grants from DESE to fund academic support in a variety of forms, from Acceleration Academies during school vacations to improved curriculum and materials. Districts have shown strong interest in grants and professional learning opportunities in areas, such as early literacy, and DESE will continue to support districts in this work.