Brookline School Committee faces educational disparities in test results



The spring 2021 MCAS results show disparities between student groups that have worsened due to the pandemic

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) met virtually via Zoom on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. to review spring MCAS data, expand on plans for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and vote on the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Brookline Educators Union (BEU).

The MCAS results from spring 2021 show significant disparities between disadvantaged student subgroups and the general student population, which have been present for many years. However, the most recent results show that the disparities have worsened over the pandemic.

BSC co-chair Susan Wolf-Ditkoff said while the numbers were expected, the clear disparity between the general population of students and the student subgroups still needs to be addressed.

“We have seen these numbers before. They are also exacerbated this year. We know there are disparate impacts due to COVID on different segments of our population, and these are mirrored by trends that we see nationally. It doesn’t mean it’s okay, it means we should continue to be shocked and horrified and try to confront it,” Wolf-Ditkoff said.

According to Lesley Ryan Miller, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, the Public Schools of Brookline (PSB) are using the MCAS data to monitor students’ understanding, focus professional development and adapt instruction to fully teach the curriculum to amend these disparities.

“We have to demonstrate continuous improvement with this. We owe it to our students to ensure that all students are achieving. That is in our mission, it’s in our vision, it’s in our goals. We need to continuously work to close this gap that we are seeing,” Miller said.

Superintendent Dr. Linus Guillory said a more broader view of the challenges PSB faces will help direct the evolution of the reforms needed.

“What have we done differently? If we have not done anything differently in the system, then why are we expecting different outcomes? I think we need to look at it holistically,” Guillory said.

With nine new adjustment counselor positions added, SEL programs in PSB are well on their way to addressing the needs of the student population, according to Dr. Matt DuBois, the Assistant Director of Guidance, Clinical Services and SEL.

DuBois said PSB were looking for counselors that specialized in the needs of the school community.

“We were looking for folks that had a broad range of clinical experiences working with and supporting school-age children. We also wanted clinicians with a deep interest and skill set in supporting and working with caregivers,” DuBois said.

DuBois also said the SEL programs will help address the increased mental stress brought on by the pandemic and the return to in-person learning.

“In the early and emerging research, it is pretty predictable that the pandemic is having a significant and adverse impact on the mental health of a lot of our kids. It’s our job and responsibility to continue to listen to our kids and to use their voices to help inform the supports that we are providing them,” DuBois said.

The BSC unanimously voted in favor of the MoA between the BEU and the BSC, which was negotiated by the BSC Negotiations Subcommittee on Oct. 6. The BEU ratified the MoA, which includes the vaccine mandate for staff, extended sick leave for COVID-19 and accommodations for students absent from class due to COVID-19.

The BSC also reduced the required number of tests per week for unvaccinated staff from three to one, in accordance with the MoA.