Black and Hispanic students made some progress this year in closing a troubling gap with white students in academic achievement, state officials said Monday as they released statewide results from MCAS tests taken in the spring.
The racial divide narrowed in many grades in both English and math scores for black students and in math for Hispanics in most grades this year, state data show. For students of all races, MCAS scores showed gains in 11 of 17 tests administered this spring, compared with 2014.
State officials and a former lawmaker pointed to gradual improvement for black and Hispanic students since 2007.
Marty Walz, a former state representative who in 2010 was the lead author of the state’s Achievement Gap Act, praised the results and said they reflected the expectations of elected officials who supported the act five years ago.
“At that time, we deliberately raised the bar on ourselves, believing that Massachusetts students could and should reach higher academic performance,” Walz said.
In a separate finding, the results released Monday also showed that students generally scored lower on a closely scrutinized new standardized test being considered to replace MCAS — known as PARCC — when compared with peers who took the MCAS test.
The results for the MCAS tests showed that between 2014 and 2015, black and Hispanic students posted gains in some measures but broke even or lost ground on others.
In English, black students’ scores drew closer to scores of white students this year in most grades, but the gap between black and white students remained the same in third grade and grew by 2 percentage points in seventh grade.
Hispanic students gained ground in English scores for grades 4, 8, and 10, but saw the gap grow in grades 5 through 7 and remain the same in Grade 3. In most grades, math scores improved for Hispanic students.
Looking back further, the MCAS results showed that the greatest change for minority students was in 10th-grade English, where the gap between scores for black students and their white peers has narrowed 19 percentage points since 2007, when MCAS became required for all students in grades 3 to 8.
For Hispanic students, the gap in English scores is now 18 points smaller since 2007.
In math scores, Hispanic students in the third grade jumped 11 percentage points closer to their white peers.
The most dramatic gain in math scores among black students occurred in fourth grade, where the gap in performance narrowed by 8 percentage points since 2007.
About 88 percent of 10th-grade students met the minimum MCAS requirements to earn a high school diploma, the same percentage that met that threshold for the past two years.
When the requirement took effect 11 years ago, just 68 percent of students were successful on their first try.
There were vast gulfs, though, between MCAS and PARCC scores for some student groups.
In third-grade math, 71 percent of students who took the MCAS scored in the two highest categories of proficient or advanced, while 51 percent of PARCC scores fell into roughly equivalent categories.
In eight-grade English, 80 percent of MCAS scores were proficient or better, versus 57 percent of PARCC scores in its top two tiers.
Officials say PARCC emphasizes more critical thinking and synthesizing multiple pieces of information.
Stakes are high for PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment — as the state’s board of education prepares for a November vote that will decide whether it replaces the MCAS —
State officials said this year’s results should not unduly influence the upcoming vote.
“This early report on PARCC results is preliminary and incomplete and therefore cannot yet be directly compared to this year’s MCAS results,” state Secretary of Education James A. Peyser said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the complete results as they become available.”
As chairman of the PARCC Consortium’s Governing Board, Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, has overseen the development of the test that 10 other states and the District of Columbia are also considering. Chester has denied assertions that the two roles constitute a conflict of interest.
Both supporters and opponents said they expected to see lower scores on the PARCC, which advocates say is a better measure of students’ readiness for college or the workforce.
Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said the MCAS and PARCC tests are “apples and oranges.”
“MCAS, basically, was designed as a measure of basic skills,” Noonan said. “It was intended to be a floor that all kids would meet. Over time, it has become the ceiling that schools strive to meet, and it’s just too low a bar.”
School districts had the option this year of administering either PARCC or MCAS .
The schools that tried out PARCC could offer it by computer or on paper. PARCC scores released Monday included only those of students who took the test on a computer — about 59 percent of those who took it. Scores from the paper version of PARCC are set to be released in November.
Because the MCAS test is still a graduation requirement, all 10th-graders took it instead of the PARCC, and most high schools chose not to use the PARCC test in grades 9 and 11.
The data released Monday reflected only statewide trends and did not include scores at the district or school level. Those results are set for public release Thursday.
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.