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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Next-Generation MCAS: New Achievement Levels and Descriptors

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 17, 2017

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This memorandum discusses my recommendations for new achievement level categories and policy-level descriptors for the next-generation MCAS tests. A vote to adopt these recommendations is on the agenda for our February 28, 2017, meeting.

Last year, I convened an MCAS standard setting policy committee, comprised of Massachusetts educators, to advise us on achievement level descriptors for the new tests, which will be given for the first time to students in grades 3-8 in English language arts and mathematics in spring 2017. These descriptors will serve as guidance to the standard setting committees that will review the test results in each grade and recommend cut scores corresponding to each level of performance. The descriptors will also be included on the parent/guardian score reports to help students and their families better understand the test results.

The standard setting policy committee's proposal, which I shared with you at the November 29, 2016, Board meeting, was based on a set of guiding principles, including the need to develop positive and motivating achievement level names, the importance of clear communication to parents and students regarding readiness to engage in academic activities at the next level, and the desire to communicate shared responsibility for student success.

The Department solicited feedback on the committee's proposal through outreach to stakeholder groups and through an online survey for the public and the educational community, which garnered 450 responses. There was strong support for the major aspects of the proposal, including the continued use of a four-level structure; the use of positive/motivating language; and the need to signal readiness for academic work at the next level. A number of commenters suggested improvements to the wording of the lower levels and descriptors, to avoid confusion over the ordering of the levels and to send a clearer message about the steps parents/guardians should take for students who do not meet expectations on the test. Commenters also noted the need to keep the language clear and accessible.

My recommendation to the Board, which incorporates these comments and suggestions, is attached. For comparison, I have also included the standard setting policy committee's original proposal as well as the descriptors used on our current (legacy) MCAS. It should be noted that we will continue to use the legacy descriptors on our legacy high school and science and technology/engineering tests. As next-generation versions of those tests are developed, they will incorporate the new achievement levels and descriptors.

A motion for the Board's consideration is also attached.

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Associate Commissioner Michol Stapel, and Chief MCAS Analyst Bob Lee will join us for the discussion to answer any questions you may have.

 

Attachments:

 
Next-generation MCAS Achievement Levels and Descriptors
 
Motion

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Next-Generation MCAS
Achievement Levels and Descriptors

Recommendations to the Board

Exceeding Expectations
A student who performed at this level on this test exceeded grade-level academic expectations and is well prepared in this subject.

Meeting Expectations
A student who performed at this level on this test met grade-level academic expectations and is prepared in this subject.

Partially Meeting Expectations
A student who performed at this level on this test partially met grade-level academic expectations. The school and parent/guardian may wish to evaluate the need for academic assistance for this student.

Not Meeting Expectations
A student who performed at this level on this test did not meet grade-level academic expectations. The school and parent/guardian should evaluate the need for academic assistance for this student.

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As originally proposed by the Standard Setting Policy Committee

Exceeding Expectations
Students performing at this level on this test exceed grade-level expectations for knowledge, skills, and understanding, and are academically well prepared to succeed at the next grade level.

Meeting Expectations
Students performing at this level on this test meet grade-level expectations for knowledge, skills, and understanding, and are academically prepared to succeed at the next grade level.

Partially Meeting Expectations
Students performing at this level on this test partially meet grade-level expectations for knowledge, skills, and understanding. These students may need coordinated assistance and/or additional instruction to succeed at the next grade level.

Not Yet Meeting Expectations
Students performing at this level on this test did not meet grade-level expectations for knowledge, skills, and understanding. These students need substantial coordinated intervention and/or additional instruction to succeed at the next grade level.

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Legacy MCAS Achievement Levels and Descriptors

Advanced
Students at this level demonstrate a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of challenging subject matter and provide sophisticated solutions to complex problems.

Proficient
Students at this level demonstrate a solid understanding of challenging subject matter and solve a wide variety of problems.

Needs Improvement
Students at this level demonstrate a partial understanding of subject matter and solve some simple problems

Warning (Failing at high school)
Students at this level demonstrate a minimal understanding of subject matter and do not solve simple problems.



Last Updated: February 27, 2017
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