Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

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The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, commonly shortened to MCAS /ˈɛmkæs/, is the Commonwealth's statewide standards-based assessment program developed in 1993, in response to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of the same year.[1] State and federal law mandates that all students who are enrolled in the tested grades and who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS testing.[2]

MCAS has three primary purposes:

  1. To inform and improve curriculum and instruction.
  2. To evaluate student, school, and district performance according to Massachusetts Curriculum Framework content standards and Performance Standards.
  3. To determine student eligibility for the Competency Determination requirement in order to award high school diplomas.

If necessary, students are given multiple opportunities to pass the test. Massachusetts fulfills the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act by administering MCAS tests in English language arts (ELA) and Mathematics to students in grades 3-8 and 10. Additional MCAS tests are administered in Science and Technology/Engineering (grades 5, 8, 9/10).

Types of Questions[edit]

The tests use four varieties of questions. The multiple-choice questions are included on all but the ELA Composition tests and require students to choose one answer from four given answers. These types of questions are machine-scored.

The short-answer questions on the MCAS are only included in the mathematics tests. They require the student to give a short numerical answer or a brief statement.

Open-response questions are included on all MCAS tests but the ELA Composition and grade 3 mathematics tests. They require students to generate their own responses. Students create a one-two paragraph response in writing or in the form of a narrative, chart, table, diagram, illustration, or graph, as appropriate. Students can receive up to four points for each open-response question.

Writing prompts are included only on ELA Composition tests in grades 4,7 and 10 and require students to respond by creating a written composition. Compositions are scored based on two things. For topic development, students are scored 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). For Standard English conventions, students are scored 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).

Preparation[edit]

Students are prepared for the exams throughout their academic careers by in-class instruction. However, if an individual student needs help improving in a particular test, the first step in giving that student the extra help he or she needs is to identify specific weaknesses. Sometimes the student, teachers, or parents are aware of the weaknesses, sometimes they are not. To ascertain what the student knows as well as what he or she needs to learn, a diagnostic test may be administered.

Grade levels[edit]

Students take different tests according to their grade level. In addition to these tests, students may be required to take tryouts and pilot tests. The following list is current as of spring 2012. It is required for a student to pass both the English Language Arts and Mathematics portions of the Grade 10 test in order to meet the Competency Determination requirement. Beginning with the graduating class of 2010 students are also required to pass a Science and Technology/Engineering Test.[3]

Spring 2012 MCAS Tests by grade level
Grade Subject
3 Reading, Math
4 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension and Composition, Mathematics
5 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering
6 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension, Mathematics
7 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension and Composition, and Mathematics
8 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering (see HS)
10 English Language Arts Reading Comprehension and Composition, Mathematics, Science and Technology/Engineering (see HS)
HS Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering

Note: Students in grades 9 or 10 take a Science and Technology/Engineering test in biology, chemistry, introductory physics, or technology/engineering.

Note: The History and Social Sciences test has been placed on hold due to budgetary concerns.

Scoring and results[edit]

The MCAS scale ranges from 200 to 280. Performance levels correspond to the following score points on the scale:

General MCAS Performance Level Definitions
Performance Level Definition
Advanced (260-280) Students at this level demonstrate a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of rigorous subject matter and provide sophisticated solutions to complex problems.
Proficient (240-259) Students at this level demonstrate a solid understanding of challenging subject matter and solve a wide variety of problems.
Needs Improvement (220-239) Students at this level demonstrate a partial understanding of subject matter and solve some simple problems.
Warning/Failing (200-219) Students at this level demonstrate a minimal understanding of subject matter and do not solve simple problems.

An Educational Proficiency Plan EPP must be developed for the subject matter area(s) in English Language Arts and mathematics in which students did not meet or exceed a scaled score of 240.[4]

10th graders who achieve an Advanced score in either the ELA or Mathematics section of the test, at least a Proficient on the other section, and have a score that puts them in the top 25% in their school district become eligible for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. Recipients receive a tuition waiver to attend state colleges and universities in Massachusetts. The waiver is in effect for 8 consecutive traditional semesters or 4 years.[5]

MCAS school and district level reports are released each summer on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.[6]

Criticism[edit]

The MCAS has been criticized for being too narrow in nature and for pressuring teachers into restricting the curriculum to material covered by the tests.[7][8] It has been met with opposition from mayor Scott W. Lang from New Bedford, who called it "completely unsustainable" and "impractical". He claimed that the MCAS was causing students to drop out of high school, and expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that public high school students must pass the MCAS to graduate.[9] Charles Gobron, superintendent of the Northborough school district, claimed that the standards set by the MCAS were "unfair", and that the minimum threshold for proficiency on the tests was being raised each year, "making it look like schools are doing worse than they really are."[10] The MCAS has also faced opposition from public school teachers. Some, such as Joan Bonsignore of Easthampton High School, claim that the tests do not accurately demonstrate the skills of students, and that they cause anxiety among the students.[11]

The University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, a research arm of the University President's Office, wrote in 2001 that the MCAS do not measure school or district performance because 84% of the variation in the scores across schools and districts is due to socioeconomic factors. In other words, as the Donahue Institute reported, ″One of the consistent findings of this research is that demography explains most of the variation in test scores from district to district. Results from this year's research are similar to results from last year's work: about 84% of the variation in test results (scores for all of the test-taking students for the nine MCAS tests combined) is explained by demography. That is why Weston and Wayland have high MCAS scores and why Holyoke and Brockton have low MCAS scores. Thus, though demography is not destiny, it sets a strong tendency." In the end, wrote the Donahue Report, the MCAS scores tell more about a district's real estate values than the quality of its schools.″[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Overview". http://www.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 7 September 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Participation Requirements for Students". http://www.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Participation Requirements and Guidelines for the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 MCAS High School Tests and Retests". http://www.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  4. ^ "College and Career Readiness: Educational Proficiency Plans". http://www.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: John and Abigail Adams Scholarship". http://www.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 12 October 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "2011 MCAS Report (DISTRICT) for Grade 10 All Students". http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Sacchetti, Maria (5 June 2007). "MCAS critics push for change". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Potier, Beth (18 October 2001). "MCAS put to the test at KSG". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Cohen, Joe (15 June 2008). "Mayor continues criticism of MCAS testing with magazine article". The Standard-Times. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  10. ^ Petrishen, Brad (6 October 2011). "Northborough superintendent says MCAS standards unfair and too high". The MetroWest Daily News. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  11. ^ Everett, Rebecca (9 March 2011). "As MCAS nears for students, teachers reflect on 12 years of testing". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Gaudet, Robert D. Effective School Districts in Massachusetts: A Study of Student Performance on the 1999 MCAS Assessments. The Second Annual Report. Sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, March, 2000. http://www.donahue.umassp.edu/docs/effective-districts-mcas-pdf

External links[edit]

(Achieve, Inc.)