Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (page 3)
1. What is tested on MCAS?
The MCAS tests are based on the learning standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. MCAS tests are administered in the following content areas:
- English Language Arts
- Science and Technology/Engineering
- History and Social Science
2. What types of questions appear on MCAS tests, and how are student responses scored?
Four types of questions are used on MCAS tests:
Multiple-choice questions are included on all MCAS tests except the ELA Composition and require students to select the correct answer from a list of four options.
Responses to multiple-choice questions are machine scored.
Short-answer questions are included only on Mathematics tests and require students to generate a brief response, usually a numerical solution or a brief statement.
Responses to short-answer questions are scored on a scale of 0-1 points by one scorer at grades 3-8 and by two scorers independently at grade 10.
Open-response questions are included on all MCAS tests except the ELA Composition and require students to generate, rather than recognize, a response. Students create a one- or two-paragraph response in writing or in the form of a narrative or a chart, table, diagram, illustration, or graph, as appropriate. Students can respond correctly using a variety of strategies and approaches.
Responses to open-response questions are scored using a scoring guide, or rubric, for each question. The scoring guides indicate what knowledge and skills students must demonstrate to earn 1, 2, 3, or 4 score points. Students earn 1 or 2 points for grade 3 Mathematics open-response questions.
Answers to open-response questions are not scored for spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Responses are scored by one scorer at grades 3-8. Grade 10 ELA and Mathematics tests and high school Science and Technology/Engineering tests are scored by two scorers independently.
Writing prompts are included only on ELA Composition tests and require students to respond by creating a written composition.
The student compositions are scored independently by two scorers for
- Topic development, based on a six-score point scale, with students receiving from 2 to 12 points (the sum of scores from each of the two scorers)
- Standard English conventions, based on a four-point scale, with students receiving from 2 to 8 points (the sum of the scores from each of the two scorers).
- Student compositions that do not address the prompt will be deemed non-scorable (NS), earning them a 0 out of 20 possible points.
3. How are test results reported?
Results are reported for individual students, schools, and districts according to four performance levels defined by the Board of Education:
- Advanced (grades 4-10)/Above Proficient (grade 3)
- Proficient (grades 3-10)
- Needs Improvement (grades 3-10)
- Warning (grades 3-8)/Failing (grades 9 and 10)
4. How are test results used?
Parents, students, and educators use the results to:
- Follow student progress
- Identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction
- Fine-tune curriculum alignment with the statewide standards
- Gather diagnostic information that can be used to improve student performance
- Identify students who may need additional support services/remediation
School and district accountability
As required by the Education Reform Law, the Board of Education established a rating system and standards for improving student academic performance that schools and districts must meet. In addition, under No Child Left Behind the Department reports on the Annual Yearly Progress of students in schools and districts based on MCAS results.
View more information on the School Performance Ratings Process
Students are required to pass the MCAS grade 10 tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics and, beginning with the class of 2010, one high school test in Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering, and fulfill all local requirements, to be eligible for a high school diploma. Students are given multiple opportunities, if necessary, to pass the tests. Students also must meet local requirements for high school graduation (for example, completion of required coursework).
5. Is a ranking of districts and towns by MCAS scores available?
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does NOT rank cities or towns based on MCAS scores. Often local media use statewide results to create their own rankings. However, this practice is not encouraged or endorsed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
6. Are all students required to participate?
As mandated by the Education Reform Law of 1993, all students educated with public funds are required to participate in the MCAS tests administered in their grades, including the following:
- students enrolled in public schools
- students enrolled in charter schools
- students enrolled in educational collaboratives
- students enrolled in private schools receiving special education that is publicly funded by the Commonwealth, including approved and unapproved private special education schools within and outside Massachusetts
- students enrolled in institutional settings receiving educational services
- students in mobile military families
- students in the custody of either the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the Department of Youth Services (DYS)
- students with disabilities (see Students with Disabilities)
- students with limited English proficiency (see LEP Students)
Home-schooled students are not enrolled in the public school system; therefore, they are not required nor entitled by law to participate in MCAS.
For more information, refer to participation requirements.
7. Can parents refuse their child's participation in MCAS tests?
Parents may not legally refuse their child's participation in MCAS tests. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 76, Sections 2 and 4, establish penalties for truancy as well as for inducing unlawful absence of a minor from school. In addition, school discipline codes generally define local rules for school attendance and penalties for unauthorized absence from school or from a required part of the school day.
8. How do students with disabilities participate in MCAS tests?
The student's IEP Team or 504 team must determine annually how a student with disabilities will participate in MCAS in each subject scheduled for assessment. This information must be documented in the student's IEP and should be documented in the student's 504 Plan. The team may determine that the student can take the standard test with or without accommodations or may be eligible to take the MCAS Alternate Assessment. Guidelines to assist IEP Teams and 504 teams in making decisions regarding how each student will participate in MCAS tests are available in the Requirements for the Participation of Students with Disabilities in MCAS.
For more information, refer to Participation Requirements for Students.
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