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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Assessment Decision FAQs

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on November 17, 2015 to transition to a next-generation MCAS that will be given for the first time in spring 2017 and will use both PARCC and MCAS items, along with items developed specifically for the Massachusetts tests. The vote followed many of the recommendations that Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester made to the Board the week before.

For spring 2016, districts that administered PARCC in spring 2015 will do so again in grades 3-8, and the remainder of districts will continue with MCAS unless they choose to administer PARCC. The MCAS tests in spring 2016 will be augmented with a limited number of PARCC items in order to help make statewide comparisons easier and to offer students and staff the opportunity to experience PARCC items while the new assessment is being developed.

As a result of the vote, the state will:

  • Award a new MCAS contract to include a next-generation assessment for English language arts and math using PARCC items, MCAS items, and new items specific to Massachusetts;
  • Commit to computer-based state assessments with the goal of implementing this statewide by spring 2019;
  • Remain a member of the PARCC consortium with access to high-quality assessment development, cost-sharing with other states, and the ability to compare next-generation MCAS results with those of other states' assessments; and
  • Convene groups of Massachusetts K-12 teachers, higher education faculty and assessment experts to advise ESE on the content, length, and scheduling of statewide tests; testing policies for students with disabilities and for English language learners; the requirements for the high school competency determination (currently the 10th grade MCAS); and the timeline for reinstating a history and social science test.

Any districts that administer PARCC in spring 2016 will be held harmless for any negative changes in their 2016 school and district accountability and assistance levels, although the commissioner has authority to designate a school as Level 5. The Board also voted that in 2017, when all of the state's districts will use the next-generation Massachusetts assessment in grades 3-8, schools and districts will be held harmless for any negative changes in their school and district accountability and assistance levels based on those test scores.

Q: The recommendation talks about reviewing the existing curriculum frameworks. What can we expect?
A: We have no plans to throw out the existing frameworks and start from scratch. We will work with educators and other experts to see if we should modify or refine any parts of the frameworks.

Q: Can you clarify the hold harmless policy for the next two years?
A: Any districts that administer PARCC in grades 3-8 in spring 2016 will be held harmless for any negative changes in their 2016 school and district accountability and assistance levels, although the commissioner has authority to designate a school as Level 5 and recommend that a district be designated Level 5. The Department will continue to publish school percentiles and other data used in accountability determinations for all schools. School percentiles are available on the Accountability tab of each school listing on Profiles.

The Board also voted that schools and districts administering the new test in grades 3-8 in spring 2017 will be held harmless for any negative changes in their 2017 school and district accountability and assistance levels based on those test scores. Schools can be reclassified into Level 4 for reasons other than 2017 test scores. As always, Level 5 designations remain an option for the commissioner.

All high schools will continue to administer the grade 10 MCAS in English language arts and mathematics, as well as the high school science and technology/engineering tests, in 2016 and 2017. The "hold harmless" provisions do not apply to high schools that serve only grades 9-12.

Q: Will the results of PARCC tests in spring 2016 and spring 2017 affect accountability determinations in 2018 and beyond?
A: The Commonwealth's school and district accountability and assistance system uses multiple years of data to calculate school percentiles and Progress and Performance Index scores, metrics that are used in accountability determinations. We expect that practice will continue when the hold harmless provisions expire after 2017. We do recognize that the multi-year transition from MCAS to PARCC to Next-Generation MCAS and from paper-based to computer-based testing will require additional study and analysis and that schools cannot be placed in a more or less advantageous position based on the mode of test - paper or computer-based - selected in a given year. We will also need to revisit our existing accountability targets and metrics in light of the new test's standards and the very recent reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Before making any final decisions with respect to 2018 and beyond, we intend to engage in a thoughtful and deliberate process with extensive consultation with educators around the state.

Q: What about existing Level 4 schools' and charter schools' accountability?
A: We will continue to work with Level 4 schools and evaluate them to see if they are making progress. Test scores are one factor for accountability, and we will continue to monitor other factors. The same holds true for charter schools; we will continue to monitor and, potentially, make recommendations to the Board to non-renew chronically underperforming charter schools.

Q: Can districts and schools that took PARCC in 2015 change their mode of administration for 2016 (i.e., paper-and-pencil or online)? Can those same districts and schools decide to go back to MCAS for 2016?
A: Any school that took PARCC in 2015 will still have the ability to choose their mode of administration for 2016: either paper-and-pencil or online. This information will be collected through the assessment choice tool that will be available until December 18, 2015. Districts that took PARCC will not, however, be able to go back to MCAS.

Q: Will PARCC high school tests be available in spring 2016?
A: No. Massachusetts will not offer any grade 9 and 11 PARCC tests in spring 2016. The existing grade 10 MCAS test will continue to be administered through the class of 2019.

Q: PARCC results came out late this year. What is the timeline for next year?
A: PARCC results are expected to come out on roughly the same timeline as MCAS in 2016. This year's PARCC results took longer, because it was the first full administration of the test, so additional time was needed to establish scoring standards and scaled score ranges.

Q: There are no PARCC high school tests being offered in spring 2016, but there are eighth grade students taking algebra. If a district is administering PARCC in grades 3-8, should eighth grade algebra students take the PARCC grade 8 math test or the PARCC Algebra I test?
A: The PARCC Algebra I test will still be offered; it is considered part of PARCC's testing for grades 3-8. Districts will use the assessment choice tool to provide an estimate of eighth grade students who will likely take the Algebra I test in place of the standard grade 8 math test. Districts and schools should work with their curriculum specialists to determine which test will be most appropriate for their eighth graders.

Q: Does the change in state assessment and related hold harmless provisions impact educator evaluation implementation?
A: The hold harmless provisions in place related to district and school accountability are designed to ensure that districts and schools are not negatively impacted during the transition to a new state assessment. The same principle applies to individual educators. Where available Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document, student growth percentiles (SGPs) from state assessments must be used to inform an educator's Student Impact Rating. However, during this transition, educators' ratings will not be negatively impacted by SGPs.

Specifically, since the Student Impact Rating is determined by an evaluator's professional judgment - there are no prescribed weights or algorithms used to determine Student Impact Ratings - evaluators will examine whether SGPs during the transition are discrepant in a negative way from other measures of the educator's impact and, if so, will discount them. The vast majority of educators will be unaffected, because their Student Impact Ratings are not informed by SGPs.

Last Updated: December 18, 2015
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