Next generation MCAS helps ensure students’ success
Education secretary cautions against judging new test on students lower scores
Parents around the state are receiving MCAS results, and may be wondering ‘What happened to my child’s scores?’ Improvements to state standards and an upgrade of the 20-year old test have led this year’s score reports to look different than in the past, but there’s no need to panic.
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If you have question about the MCAS, please visit: www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/parents/
Last spring, students in grades 3-8 took a new test, developed with the active participation of Massachusetts teachers that raises expectations for student achievement as they progress from one grade to the next and prepare for post-secondary learning once they graduate from high school. The so-called “next-generation” MCAS asks students to think critically, solve problems, and show their work to demonstrate real understanding.
Tests don’t prepare students for academic success, teachers do. But tests send important signals to educators to help them build curriculum, adjust instruction, and provide individualized supports.
Although much of the subject matter on the new MCAS is comparable to prior versions, the format, performance standards, and scoring scale have changed, reflecting this shift to higher expectations. The new test uses a different yardstick to measure student work, and that’s why results look a little bit different than they have in the past.
Last year, student results on the “legacy” MCAS were reported through four performance categories: Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Warning. Under the next-generation MCAS, student performance is now described as Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, and Not Meeting Expectations. The difference is more than just cosmetic. Under the old system, performance was evaluated based on a student’s overall command of grade-level material. The new system focuses on mastery of knowledge and skills that are the essential building blocks for success at the next grade level.
In other words, score reports will provide parents with a clearer message about whether their child is on track for future success, up to and including readiness for college.
Equally important, the new reporting system provides students and families with a more reliable indicator of performance across subjects and over time. The legacy MCAS test was actually many different tests, which were developed at different points in time. The content and standards for the next-generation test were developed simultaneously, resulting in better alignment between English and math and more consistency from one grade to the next.
In interpreting the results, it’s critical for parents and students to understand that it is not possible to compare this year’s scores to prior years. Across the state, about half of students were Meeting or Exceeding Expectations in both English and math. Past MCAS results indicated almost two-thirds of students scored Proficient or Advanced. On its face, it seems like student achievement has dropped, but that’s just not the case. Student achievement this year is undoubtedly similar to last year; what’s changed is the test and the scoring. It’s like trying to compare apples to oranges.
This year’s results will not impact school accountability ratings, and the new assessment will be phased in for 10th graders. Current 10th graders did not take the new test. The Class of 2023 will be the first group to take the new test, incorporating new performance standards, which will affect graduation requirements.
Some people will wonder how only half of our students can be Meeting Expectations when the Commonwealth’s public schools are ranked number one in the nation. The fact is that this outcome is consistent with national assessments of Massachusetts students. More important, although we outpace the rest of the country, approximately one-third of our public high school graduates going on to Massachusetts public colleges are not ready for college-level work, particularly in math. They are forced to take remedial courses, eating up their financial resources, and in many cases ultimately leading them not to complete their studies. This is unacceptable.
The path to this new assessment was years in the making, and would not have been possible without collaborative effort of over 300 experienced public school teachers from around the state, who understand best what students need to know and be able to do.
Overall, the Massachusetts public education system is a tremendous success story. At the same time, we recognize we have more work to do. The next generation MCAS exam will play a critical role in helping our schools ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, have an opportunity to build productive careers and fulfilling lives here in Massachusetts.
James Peyser is Massachusetts Secretary of Education