The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee heard an extensive progress report Monday on an ongoing MCAS test preparation program at the high school, as the state-sanctioned standardized test nears.

High school principal Sara Dingledy said the test prep program, begun last year, is designed to familiarize students with the standardized test and collect data on test performance ahead of the assessment.

The statewide test evaluates tenth graders around the commonwealth each spring on their English and Math studies and ninth-graders on science to track achievement. Elementary school students in grades three through eight also take the annual test. Commonwealth schools receive an overall rating based on student performance and score improvements each year.

The test was canceled last year due to the pandemic. This year’s MCAS is scheduled for May.

Ms. Dingledy said the high school has been working on a test preparation program aimed at improving the school’s overall performance and closing the achievement gap between students. The program uses a diagnostic practice test similar to the MCAS to familiarize students with the test ahead of time, while also serving as a baseline to pinpoint areas for improvement, Ms. Dingledy said.

“We were really curious about digging into the data and [seeing] if there were students who typically did not grow as much on the growth metrics, why that was happening,” she said. “[We’re looking] to gather data so that we could then address it a month or two before the exam.”

Ms. Dingledy said the school has been administering the practice test and compiling data for the past few weeks with positive results so far. She said the school planned to continue the test prep curriculum into the future.

In other business Monday, committee members reviewed a proposal from Ms. Dingledy for a program to minimize student lunch debt. The program would allow students with extra lunch money to donate their additional balances to a fund, which would, in turn, be used to cover lunch debt for students with outstanding balances.

“It’s about allowing students or families to donate their positive balances this year to help address student debt,” Ms. Dingledy said, noting a plan to distribute the funds first to those who qualify for free and reduced lunch or are otherwise unable to pay.

Committee member Skipper Manter said he was in favor of the program but raised concerns over allowing to school to determine who will receive the aid first, calling it a “slippery slope.” He suggested donations be distributed equally among all students with outstanding balances instead.

Ms. Dingledy pushed back, citing the importance of supporting students amidst the recent influx of applications for subsidized lunch during the pandemic.

The committee voted unanimously to approve a letter to the community announcing the program. In a follow-up consensus vote, committee members approved an informal policy to use the donated balances for those on reduced lunch first, with plans to reassess further fund distribution later in the year.

Looking to the spring, committee members reviewed a waiver request from athletic director Mark McCarthy to allow seventh and eighth graders to play on the high school’s varsity softball team. The request also includes a co-op agreement with the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School to allow its students to participate as well.

Mr. McCarthy said the high school’s 10-student roster is currently too small to field a competitive league team, but hoped to bring in an additional four to eight students through the waiver. The wavier would mark the third for the team in three years.

Committee members voiced general approval for the measure, citing the importance of preserving the program, but others, including Meghan Anderson and Kathryn Shertzer, worried about mixing middle school and high school age groups.

“When we start adding seventh graders in, it kind of brings in a different realm,” said Ms. Anderson. “If you’re traveling and playing teams with other juniors and seniors and you’re playing…and you have kids who are 12 and 13, it sometimes brings up a level of concern.”

In the end, the committee members voted 6-1 in favor of the measure with chairman Kimberly Kirk casting the nay vote.

Also Monday, committee members bid farewell to administrator of student affairs Dhakir Warren, who will leave his post in June to become the new executive director of the Boys and Girls Club.

Committee members also voted to approve a budget transfer from the contingency fund of $6,600 for tent rental and $28,000 for new furniture. The expenses are to refit the building before students return to the classroom full-time this April.