Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Next-Generation MCAS: Update on Standard-Setting Policy Committee

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 18, 2016


As part of our transition to the next-generation MCAS tests, which will be given for the first time to students in grades 3-8 in English language arts and mathematics in spring 2017, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been planning for how the results of those assessments will be reported.

On the legacy MCAS tests, results are reported in four achievement level categories (Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Warning/Failing), with general policy-level descriptors associated with each of those categories (e.g., "Students at the Proficient level demonstrate a solid understanding of challenging subject matter and solve a wide variety of problems"). The current categories and descriptors are listed in the attachment to this memo. In September 2016, the Department's assessment staff convened a 14-member standard-setting policy committee, composed of classroom teachers, educational administrators, policymakers, and other stakeholders, to discuss and arrive at recommendations regarding achievement level categories and policy-level descriptors for the next-generation MCAS tests.

During one and a half days of facilitated meetings, the committee first heard background information on the MCAS program and the history of MCAS achievement levels, learned about the uses of descriptors and achievement levels, and examined examples from other assessment programs. The committee then drafted a set of guiding principles. Key among those principles were 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. In addition, the committee discussed at length the number of levels to recommend, taking into consideration proposed test length, reliability of achievement level classifications, and downstream uses of the results.

With the guiding principles as a foundation, the committee reached consensus on proposed draft achievement levels and descriptors (attached), which have since been shared for some limited internal and external feedback and discussion. During the summer following the first administration of the next generation MCAS, the Department will convene panels of educators, by grade and subject, to set standards on the new tests and determine the cut scores for each achievement level.

At the Board meeting on November 29, I will present additional information about the work of the committee and the Board will discuss the proposed draft levels and descriptors. The Department will then invite comment from stakeholders. I plan to return to the Board in February with a final recommendation.

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


Download Word Document
MCAS Achievement Levels and Descriptors
Download Word Document
List of Standard Setting Policy Committee Members

Last Updated: November 28, 2016
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact DESE