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Student Assessment - Planning for Competency Determination Decision for the Class of 2020

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
September 16, 2016


As I reported to you in my August 22, 2016, assessment update (copy attached), work is continuing apace on the next-generation English language arts and mathematics tests which will be given in grades 3 through 8 starting next spring.

The transition to the next-generation high school tests involves some additional considerations, because those tests (currently ELA, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering) are the primary method for students to satisfy the state's Competency Determination (CD), which is a requirement for receiving a high school diploma. Because of the high stakes nature of high school testing, it has always been a guiding principle that students need ample and timely notice of the expectations of the CD.

In November 2013, when the Board approved the plan for the two-year PARCC "test drive," the Board also voted to continue the legacy high school MCAS tests in ELA and mathematics at least through the class of 2018. We revisited this issue in June 2014, at which time the Board extended the use of the legacy tests in these subjects through the class of 2019. It was noted at the time that the Board was not scheduled to vote on adopting the PARCC assessments until late in the fall of 2015, after the class of 2019 had already entered high school.

The Board's decision in November 2015 to develop a next-generation MCAS test, instead of adopting the PARCC assessment, created the need for an additional transition year. Last spring's eighth graders, the class of 2020, took either the PARCC assessment or the legacy MCAS test (augmented with some PARCC items). Of those who took the PARCC assessment, some took the computer-based version and some took the paper-based option. None of these students have yet experienced the full next-generation MCAS test.

For this reason, I am recommending that the Board vote at next month's meeting to extend the legacy 10th grade tests in ELA and mathematics for one additional year, to encompass the class of 2020. The class of 2021, this year's eighth graders, will be taking the computer-based version of the next-generation MCAS test this coming spring. That experience, along with the sample and practice versions of the 10th grade test that will be made available, will help to prepare them for their high stakes test in the spring of 2019.

An extra year's delay will also give us needed time to continue our discussions on the structure and design of the high school tests. Among the questions that we need to consider are:

  • What subjects should the high school science and technology/engineering tests encompass?
  • Should the proposed history and social sciences test be included in the CD requirement?
  • How should re-test opportunities be structured for students who do not achieve the CD on their first attempt?
  • Should an 11th grade test aligned to college and career readiness be added, as either a required or an optional assessment?
  • Should the standard for the CD move toward the college and career readiness standard in the future?

The high school testing workgroup that met last spring under the direction of former senior associate commissioner Brooke Clenchy did some thoughtful analysis of these issues, but more discussion with our colleagues in higher education and with our other stakeholders is clearly needed before we can present a comprehensive set of recommendations to the Board.

The proposed extension of the legacy MCAS test through the class of 2020 has been discussed over the past several months with the Board's assessment committee, with our project communications committee (which includes representatives from all of our major stakeholder groups), and with the superintendents' and secondary school principals' associations. The informal response has been uniformly favorable.

Given the importance of this decision, I am asking that you have an initial discussion at the September 27, 2016, Board meeting and then vote on my recommendation at the October 25, 2016, meeting. Members of the public will have the opportunity to address the Board on this subject during the public comment period at both meetings. Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Associate Commissioner Michol Stapel, and Associate General Counsel Lucy Wall will also join us for the discussion to answer any questions you may have.

Attachment: August 22, 2016 Update on Student Assessment and the Next-Generation MCAS Project

Last Updated: September 19, 2016
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