May 19, 2021
Boston – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption in our ability to track the progress of Boston students on a number of progress indicators, according to the latest report card from The Boston Opportunity Agenda, a public/private partnership working to improve cradle-to-career education for all students in Boston. The ninth annual edition of the report card, released today in an online event hosted by the Boston Foundation, draws from a number of indicators - nearly all of them affected by the pandemic.
“This edition of the Report Card serves as a reminder of two important themes,” said Kristin McSwain, Executive Director of the Boston Opportunity Agenda. “First, it is a chance to reiterate the key milestones in helping students achieve career, college and life success - such as kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency, post-high school readiness for college and career, and college completion. But secondly, it is a stark illustration of the gaps that quickly emerge in our data and understanding when the systems are stressed as they are now.”
Many of the key indicators tracked by the Opportunity Agenda over the past decade are tied to the MCAS exams, which were canceled in 2020 and made optional in 2021 because of the pandemic. The most recent data from 2019 showed some signs of progress in critical areas such as third-grade reading proficiency and sixth-grade math proficiency at Boston Public Schools and charter schools in the city.
BPS schools also improved on other metrics, with a decrease in the dropout rate and increase in the four-year high school completion rate for the Class of 2020. However, in both cases, notable racial and gender disparities are evident, demonstrating the work to be done to support students of color, ELL students, students with disabilities and male students across all racial groups, who consistently measure lower on indicators of success.
Of even greater concern, there is evidence that graduates of Boston’s public charter, Catholic and BPS schools are not well prepared for college, career and life. In 2019, the Opportunity Agenda debuted a measure of graduate readiness, that includes consideration of attendance, GPA, rigorous coursework, individual learning plans and opportunities for learning experience outside the classroom, such as internships. These measures were highlighted because they correlate to post-graduate success in college and career.
For the baseline class of 2017, 47% of Boston graduates met the readiness benchmark, and by the Class of 2019, the number had risen to 51%. But for the Class of 2020, just 45% of students met the benchmark, as the pandemic’s impact on attendance and internships, in particular, derailed years of progress. The Boston Public Schools announcement last week that the district would adopt higher academic standards to include the state’s MassCore curriculum will certainly bolster the percentage meeting the readiness benchmark – however, that requirement does not take effect until the BPS Class of 2026.
“The 2020 and initial 2021 data illustrate the devastating impact of the pandemic on the pillars of learning that lead to college and career readiness,” said Deborah Kincade Rambo, President of Catholic Charities and Chair of the Boston Opportunity Agenda. “While the BPS move to adopt the MassCore curriculum is a critical step, we must not wait until then to remediate the learning loss from the pandemic, and find innovative ways to get more students across BPS, charter and Catholic schools to graduate with both a diploma and the skills and understanding to build on it.”
The full report card, which also includes data about kindergarten readiness, college completion and postsecondary credentials among adults, can be found at bostonopportunityagenda.org.
The BOSTON OPPORTUNITY AGENDA is a public/private partnership comprising the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the city’s leading public charities and many local foundations to ensure that all Boston residents have access to the education necessary for upward economic mobility, civic engagement and lifelong learning for themselves and their families. Visit www.bostonopportunityagenda.org to learn more about the Boston Opportunity Agenda and its activities.