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On Tuesday, September 19, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released accountability results for all Massachusetts schools and districts based on data from the 2022-23 school year. The data demonstrates that Holyoke Public Schools is making “moderate progress” towards its performance targets and was just a few percentage points short of reaching “substantial progress” in 2022-23.  

The state’s accountability system measures school and district improvement on MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) achievement and growth, as well as a broader set of indicators, including chronic absenteeism, English learners’ progress towards English proficiency, advanced coursework completion, graduation rates, and dropout rates.

“We are very proud that E.N. White School met or exceeded their targets and that five schools—Donahue, Kelly, Lawrence, Morgan, and Peck—made ‘substantial progress’ towards their targets,” said Superintendent Anthony Soto. “Four schools made ‘moderate progress’ towards their targets, while unfortunately, two schools made limited or no progress.”

While Holyoke Public Schools is making “moderate progress,” overall student achievement and growth continues to fall below the state average. Growth and achievement levels on MCAS were similar to last year. 

“We are encouraged to see an increase in science achievement in high school at a time when the state average declined,” Superintendent Soto said. “Student growth remains below the state average in both English Language Arts and math. We saw a one-point increase compared to last year in the percent of students meeting and exceeding in 3rd grade ELA, while the state average was flat.”

DESE also noted that HPS exceeded targets in chronic absenteeism, advanced coursework, extended engagement, and the annual drop-out rate. 

“We are particularly encouraged by a 10 percentage point decline in chronic absenteeism for students in grades 1-8,” said Assistant Superintendent Stephen Mahoney. “This is good progress, but we still must work towards the large majority of students being present and on-time for school every day. We are also very proud that 49.5 percent of students in grades 11-12 are enrolled in advanced coursework.” 

The increase in extended engagement in high school over the past four years means that students are staying enrolled in school, which is a better outcome than leaving without a diploma. “This is connected to the district’s drop-out rate, which decreased to 3.5 percent, similar to our pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, our students in grades K-8 met their targets on making progress towards attaining English language proficiency,” Dr. Mahoney said.

The district’s graduation rate declined from 2021 to 2022; however, the 2021 number was higher than usual because of exemptions the state made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 rate of 74.9 percent is nearly three points higher than the district’s 72 percent graduation rate for the three years prior to the pandemic. 

“With all the hard work and efforts our teachers, staff, students, and families are dedicating to education, we would like to see better results today,” Superintendent Soto said. “Yet, now is not the time to get discouraged. Now is not the time to change course. We recognize that MCAS is a lagging indicator of student achievement, and we have other leading indicators that suggest we’re headed in the right direction.” 

These indicators of improvement include:  

  • The first year of the district’s early literacy initiative yielded meaningful growth outcomes that are not reflected in the state’s accountability system. The percentage of PreK-2 students below grade level achieving accelerated growth in the early literacy STAR assessment increased from 27 percent in 2022 to 36 percent in 2023.   

  • More students who are below grade level on STAR reading and math achieved accelerated growth on STAR, suggesting that students are approaching grade-level standards.

  • The gap in ELA and Math proficiency on STAR decreased between English Learners (ELs) and non-English Learners, indicating the district is better meeting the needs of multilingual learners.

  • Students with attendance rates greater than 80 percent scored higher on MCAS than students with lower attendance rates, which reinforces the need for students to be in school in order to achieve.

  • School leaders and expert teachers are committed to classroom-based coaching and using planning and data meetings to support teacher practice and student growth. 

  • District and school leaders and staff feel optimistic that the move from K-8 schools to elementary and middle schools will allow us to better meet students’ academic and social emotional needs. 

In the coming weeks, HPS will continue to study and learn from school, grade-level, classroom, and individual student data to ensure the district’s improvement efforts are responsive to what students need most. Most immediately, the district is fine-tuning its focus in several key areas:

  • Increasing the quantity and quality of students’ independent work during class, so they can build their content knowledge, skills, and stamina;

  • Examining the quality of student work to assess students’ understanding of the material and re-teaching when necessary;

  • Providing grade-level content professional development to teachers to ensure they understand and can support students to reach grade-level standards; and

  • Continuing to build inclusive teaching practices to meet the needs of all students.

For more information on the accountability system and detailed information on individual school and districtwide results, visit www.doe.mass.edu/accountability. In the next few weeks, official MCAS individual student reports will be delivered to district offices and then sent to families. As always, families are encouraged to contact their children’s teachers with questions about their children’s performance. Later this month HPS will release an updated version of the district’s strategic plan, which will include a progress update and details on the district's plans for the 2023-24 school year.