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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Planning for High School Competency Determination Standard

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
September 15, 2017

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In November 2015, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to develop a next-generation MCAS testing program. The first computer-based, next-generation MCAS tests were given to students in grades 3-8 in spring 2017. Over the next few years, the high school tests in English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, and science and technology/engineering (STE) will also become next-generation tests. Students earn the competency determination and become eligible for high school graduation based on meeting the state standard on the high school MCAS tests. Consequently, as we transition to next-generation MCAS tests at the high school level, we need to provide adequate notice to students and schools about any significant changes, to ensure fairness and provide opportunity to prepare.

At the September 26, 2017 meeting, I will present initial information regarding our proposed recommendations for a measured and reasonable transition plan for the competency determination for ELA and mathematics, which would also apply to the high school science tests when those tests transition to next-generation assessments.

Background on the Competency Determination

The Education Reform Act of 1993 established a new state standard (called the competency determination, or CD) for high school graduation: Students must meet the standards adopted by the Board through regulation and measured by the MCAS, in order to be eligible for a Massachusetts high school diploma. The Commonwealth introduced MCAS testing in 1998. Starting with the class of 2003, all graduating students were required to earn the CD by scoring at the Needs Improvement level or higher on the grade 10 ELA and mathematics tests.

The Board subsequently raised the standard for the CD. Students since the class of 2010 have been required to pass one of four high school STE tests, and meet the course-taking requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP) if they fall short of the Proficient level on the grade 10 ELA or mathematics MCAS tests.

Each year since 2003, between 94 and 96 percent of students have earned the CD by the end of 12th grade, even as dropout rates have been cut in half.

Consistent with the Education Reform Act, the Board has adopted and periodically amended regulations that establish standards for the CD and MCAS appeals. The Department has implemented the program and related policies, including alternate pathways (MCAS-Alt) and retest opportunities. The requirements for the classes since 2003 are shown below.

Classes of 2003-2009
First CD Requirements in ELA and Mathematics

  • Students must earn a scaled score of 220 (Needs Improvement) or higher on grade 10 MCAS ELA and mathematics tests
  • At least two retest opportunities per year
  • Alternatives
    • MCAS-Alt portfolios
    • MCAS appeals (portfolio, cohort, transcript)
  • Original members of the classes of 2002 and before are grandfathered through 2005 and certain military veterans from earlier classes are grandfathered indefinitely.

Classes of 2010-2020
Science and Technology/Engineering and Educational Proficiency Plans Added

In October 2016, the Board voted to maintain the current CD requirements through the class of 2020. This decision was made in recognition of the fact that students in the class of 2021 would be the first to take the next-generation tests as 8th graders in spring 2017, an important step in preparing them to take the next-generation tests as 10th graders in spring 2019.

Recommendations for the CD during the Transition to Next-Generation MCAS

The next-generation grade 10 ELA and mathematics MCAS tests are scheduled to be administered for the first time in the spring of 2019. The reports of student results will use the new achievement levels that the Board adopted in spring 2017: Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, and Not Meeting Expectations. The first cohort of students that will take these new tests—the class of 2021—is in 9th grade this fall. We will not be able to set standards on these tests until after these students participate in the first administration of the next-generation grade 10 tests in spring 2019.

To ensure fairness during the transition period for each graduating class and provide adequate notice to students, parents, and educators, I am recommending that the Board take the following steps:

  1. Update the competency determination regulations this fall to state that students in the classes of 2021 and 2022 will be held to an interim passing standard, which will be defined as a similar level of achievement to the required standard on the legacy tests: 240 (Proficient), or 220 (Needs Improvement) and the fulfillment of the requirements of an EPP. The interim passing standard would be identified in the summer of 2019—following the first administration of the next-generation grade 10 tests in ELA and mathematics—through a two-step process: 1) identification of the standards through a statistical method, followed by 2) validation by a panel of expert educators.

    Reaching agreement now on the plan to establish an interim standard for the classes of 2021 and 2022 - a standard that corresponds to what is currently required on the legacy tests - is a fair and reasonable approach, and is recommended by our technical advisors as well as our assessment staff and our testing contractor. An interim standard provides members of the classes of 2021 and 2022 with timely notice of the passing standard they must meet to earn a CD, and allows students, parents, and educators to become familiar with the new assessments before any students are held to a new passing standard.

    This approach also gives the Board the opportunity to consider the results from the next-generation grade 10 tests in setting a new competency determination standard for the classes of 2023 and beyond, taking into account the new achievement levels, scales, and other factors.

  2. Provide reasonable notice to students entering grade 9 regarding the assessments they will take and standard they need to meet in order to fulfill the requirements of the CD.

    Parents/guardians of the students in the class of 2021 (9th graders this year) will receive a letter notifying them that these students will be taking next-generation grade 10 ELA and mathematics MCAS tests to earn the CD, and explaining that-although the test they take may be different-they will be held to the same standard on the new test as the legacy test. This letter will be sent in October along with the parent/guardian reports communicating the results from the first administration of the next-generation grade 8 MCAS tests, and will also be available for schools to send out to students entering grade 9 who did not take the grade 8 MCAS test in 2017.

  3. Update the competency determination regulations to establish a similar transition plan for the next-generation high school science tests, which will be administered for the first time in spring 2020.

  4. Continue to review, and revise as needed, other regulations and policies associated with the transition to the next-generation high school tests, including retest policies and scholarship programs (both the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship and the Stanley G. Koplik Certificate of Mastery).

Anticipated Timeline for Board Decisions: Fall/Winter 2017-18

  • September 2017: Board discusses recommendations and provides direction to guide the revision of the CD regulations.

  • October 2017: Board reviews proposed amendments to the regulations and votes on soliciting public comment.

  • January 2018: Board votes on proposed amendments to the regulations.

The following table shows how the recommendations outlined above would apply to the classes of 2020 through 2023, as we transition from the legacy passing standard to a future standard that will be identified after the first administration of the grade 10 ELA and mathematics tests in 2019.

Proposed CD Requirements in ELA and Mathematics, by Class

ClassSchool YearCD requirements
2017-20182018-20192019-20202020-20212021-20222022-2023
Class of 2020Grade 10Grade 11Grade 12Legacy (240 or 220+EPP, per BESE vote in October 2016)
Class of 2021Grade 9Grade 10*Grade 11Grade 12Interim (standard on new test that represents similar level of achievement as 240, or 220+EPP)
Class of 2022Grade 9Grade 10Grade 11Grade 12Interim (standard on new test that represents similar level of achievement as 240, or 220+EPP)
Class of 2023Grade 9Grade10Grade 11Grade 12Future (to be determined after results of new tests are considered by the Board in fall 2019)
*First administration of next-generation grade 10 tests in ELA/Mathematics

I also wanted to update you on our plans regarding the high school chemistry and technology/engineering tests. Last winter, this Board and the Board of Higher Education considered our recommendation to phase out these two tests and add an introductory physics retesting opportunity in February each year. As you recall, the overwhelming majority of students earn their CD in STE by taking either the biology or introductory physics test.

I am continuing to recommend the phase-out of the chemistry test. But we did hear from a small number of superintendents whose districts have non-traditional course sequences and for whom the phase-out of the technology/engineering test would be problematic. As a result, I am holding in abeyance my recommendation to phase out that test while we continue to explore other options.

Associate Commissioner Michol Stapel, Director of Test Development Katie Bowler, Chief MCAS Analyst Bob Lee, and Lucy Wall of our legal staff will join us for the discussion on September 26.



Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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