After a promising 2022 performance in the first full round of standardized testing since before Covid-19, Martha’s Vineyard public schools now have some catching up to do.

Although Island tenth-graders and several elementary school classes outscored their mainland peers on this year’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests, the newly-released data shows Vineyard’s schools are neither meeting nor exceeding their state-set targets for improvement.

“What we’re seeing in many of the schools is a decline in our overall achievement,” superintendent of public schools Richard Smith told the Gazette this week, after the state education department released its 2023 results.

That’s true off-Island as well. Test results across the state, as well as nationwide, show schools are failing to catch up with pre-pandemic learning losses. The annual statewide MCAS testing program was interrupted by Covid-19 in 2020 and suspended entirely in 2021, resuming in 2022.

“We set a baseline last year and our scores were pretty strong coming out of the pandemic,” Mr. Smith said. “The declines are concerning to me. We did struggle to meet the expected state benchmarks.”

Based on student test scores from last March, Edgartown School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School made little to no progress toward their targets for improvement over 2022, while only the West Tisbury School made significant progress.

No Island schools were ranked by MCAS as meeting or exceeding targets, which requires a score of 75 or higher on the state’s 100-point scale for school accountability. Each school and district goal is based on the previous year’s results from MCAS testing, administered across the commonwealth for students in third through eighth grade and in tenth grade, Mr. Smith said.

“Every school has its own target,” he said, describing the goal as a composite that reflects scores by student subgroups as well as the school as a whole.

Elementary schoolchildren take MCAS tests on English language arts and mathematics, with a science, technology and engineering exam added in fifth grade.

Student results are classified as exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations or not meeting expectations set by the state.

School achievement rankings have a wider range of classifications, from schools in need of comprehensive support for chronic under-performance to academically successful “schools of recognition.” Vineyard schools were situated in the middle three categories: substantial progress toward targets, moderate progress toward targets or limited or no progress toward targets.

The state gave the Up-Island School District a 70 per cent score for its overall improvement in 2023, based on individual results of 73 per cent for West Tisbury School and 47 per cent for Chilmark School.

West Tisbury School is considered to have made substantial progress toward its target, while Chilmark School made moderate progress, according to the state. Oak Bluffs School, with a 38 per cent grade, and Tisbury School, with 34 per cent, are also making moderate progress toward state goals.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, with 23 per cent, and Edgartown School, with 20 per cent, are making limited or no progress, according to the MCAS results.

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School received no ranking because its class sizes are too small, school director Pete Steedman told the Gazette.

“For a school that tries to be data driven, I do wish the state would give us more data,” said Mr. Steedman, adding that individual student results were strong. “When you look at English language arts, in our sixth grade 73 per cent met or exceeded [expectations].”

Statewide, 44 per cent of sixth-graders met or exceeded MCAS expectations.

The charter school’s science scores were far higher than state averages, Mr. Steedman said: 68 per cent of fifth-graders and 50 per cent of eighth-graders met or exceeded expectations, compared to 42 per cent and 41 per cent statewide.

“We just rocked it. Rocked it. We’re so excited,” he said.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Steedman both emphasized that Island students are making documented gains that are not always reflected in school achievement rankings.

“When you look at student growth, on a range of one to 100, typical growth is 40 to 60 [and] we are in the 50s in most of our schools,” Mr. Smith said.

The charter school’s tenth-grade scores were not reported because there are fewer than 20 people in that grade, but all of the school’s students met their competency requirements, Mr. Steedman said.

Mr. Smith was scheduled to meet Thursday morning with school principals and district administrators from across the Island to delve into the MCAS data, which provides detailed student demographics as well as test results. He is also preparing a public presentation on the MCAS results for next week’s all-Island school committee meeting, tentatively scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the high school library.

“We’re going to look at this as objectively as possible, because we don’t want to make emotional decisions,” he said. “The worst thing for us to do is take these scores and make leaps without looking. We need to make sure we do this as a system approach.”

By matching test scores with the educational standards they measure, Mr. Smith said, school officials will be able to see where instruction is falling short and take steps to raise teachers’ performance where needed.

“We’re going to start looking at our strategies [and] each school is going to start diving into its own accountability,” he said. “There are multiple distractions in our schools and despite these challenges, we need to focus our core work on achievement.”