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Cambridge Public Schools MCAS Scores Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Cambridge Public Schools reported that student performance on state standardized tests has returned to pre-Covid levels.
Cambridge Public Schools reported that student performance on state standardized tests has returned to pre-Covid levels. By Joey Huang
By Sally E. Edwards, Crimson Staff Writer

Cambridge students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam have returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a press release from the Cambridge Public Schools last Tuesday.

CPS was one of three districts with more than 5,000 students across the state that saw a full recovery in MCAS scores, an accompanying report from the state’s department of education added.

The data also shows, however, an achievement gap between the scores of white and Black students.

Only 36 percent of Black third-grade students met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts, compared to 79 percent of white students. Similarly, in tenth grade, 54 percent of Black students met or exceeded ELA expectations, as compared to 78 percent of their white counterparts.

Pamela A. Mason — senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate school of Education — said that the MCAS provided a positive “snapshot” of the state of district education.

“Cambridge has done better than many large city schools in the Commonwealth, ” she said. “Even when you look at the disaggregated data around race — especially the African American identified students — Cambridge is doing better than the state.”

While the district’s MCAS successes stand out in the context of the state, Cambridge City Council member Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 said that the achievement gap evident in the data is “distressing” and “unacceptable.”

“You should not use the district average to talk about the district results, because that is a false equivalence,” she said. “It’s a message that is not true to what the reality is, which is wide disparities between different schools.”

The district also wrote in the Tuesday press release that the department is “keenly aware of the opportunities and areas for growth.”

“When the data is disaggregated, it is evident that the district continues to experience challenges in achievement among some student demographic groups,” the district wrote. “As evident in the District Plan’s four main objectives and 12 core initiatives, CPS is deeply committed to closing the opportunity gap and continuing to implement robust, data-driven systems to support each of our students in achieving their full potential.”

Bernette J. Dawson, who pulled her son from the district due to “racial harm” two years ago, said “part of the issue is that the staff is not having the best relationships with some of our youth.”

“I think there needs to be more accountability when harm is done in the classroom,” she added. “I genuinely, strongly believe that when harm is done, the repair is not done in a way the child feels safe to be in that classroom, to continue that love of learning.”

Nolan said that in order to close achievement gaps, the district should be more proactive in supporting both its students and teachers.

“We have not said to students, ‘we truly believe you could do this,’” she said.

Mason, who has worked with the district for over 23 years to increase literacy rates and provide students with tutoring and support, says that closing the racial achievement gap in the district is “a challenge that we have been trying to address for decades.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of it comes from implicit and explicit biases in terms of expectations, which, unfortunately, are part of the systemic racism in our culture,” she said. “The Cambridge Public School is really again — through their focus on culturally sustaining pedagogy and culturally sustaining practices — trying to address that.”

“It’s not a matter of malice aforethought. It’s just that they don't know what they don’t know,” she added.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

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