Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

MCAS Accessibilty Workgroup Recommendations

The Next-Generation MCAS Accessibility Work Group met for three 3-hour meetings on January 28, February 2, and February 3, during which they discussed statewide policies for the participation of students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs) in the emerging Next-Generation MCAS assessments. Members either worked directly with students in these subgroups, or supervised staff who worked with these students. They addressed specific topics and policy questions focusing on the policy differences between PARCC and MCAS, and the distinct benefits and disadvantages of each. Group members provided comments on each question based their perspectives and experiences administering either or both tests, and they developed recommendations they felt would best address the needs of Massachusetts students on future assessments. Members understood that they served in an advisory role, and that the Department (Commissioner) would ultimately make determinations on which policies and recommendations were adopted.

Department staff and work group members together prioritized their meeting agenda to address topics that would inform the immediate development of a Request for Responses for a test contractor to conduct the Next-Generation MCAS assessment; and topics that would likely become part of a later Department policy document to be addressed at their second or third meeting. The group addressed all of the topics listed below and provided extensive comments and recommendations. (Note: Their comments were detailed in meeting minutes that are also available, as needed.)

  • Discussion question: Should paper-based tests continue to be available as an accommodation for students with disabilities and ELLs if they are unable to take the test using a computer?
    • Recommendation: Continue providing paper-based tests as an accommodation for SWDs and ELLs, even after 2019 when virtually all students will take the online tests. Also allow nondisabled and/or non-ELL students to take paper-based tests, if they are unable or unfamiliar with a computer, at the principal's discretion. Districts should plan technology instruction for students who are unfamiliar with computers in order to move them as quickly as possible to take computer-based tests.

  • Discussion question: Should the human read-aloud and/or text-to-speech be available for all students on mathematics and science and tech/eng tests, as PARCC currently allows; or only allow read-aloud as an accommodation for ELLs and/or students with disabilities?
    • Recommendation: Allow read-aloud as an accommodation for students with disabilities and ELLs on mathematics and science and tech/eng tests. Several members (but not a majority) recommended allowing read-aloud for any nondisabled and non-ELL student. A majority supported allowing any student to have a word or phrase read aloud on math or STE tests.

  • Discussion question: Should the Spanish-language grade 10 mathematics test continue to be available?
    • Recommendation: Continue the English/Spanish side-by-side version of the grade 10 mathematics test. Some recommended producing the grade 10 Math test in other languages, as well (although State law does not allow this).

  • Discussion question: An ASL video version of the grade 10 math test is currently offered on DVD for deaf students. Should ASL videos be embedded (as they are for PARCC) in future computer-based math tests? in which grades, and in other subjects?
    • Recommendation: Continue the ASL video version of grade 10 math tests. Members recommended that the ASL video option be expanded to include grade 8 math and high school STE tests.

  • Discussion question: Should graphic organizers and individualized math and science reference sheets be available as an accommodation for students with disabilities, as they are now for MCAS, but not for PARCC? If so, should the Department offer specific pre-approved graphic organizers and supplemental math reference sheets, rather than continue to individually approve these?
    • Recommendation: Continue offering reference sheets and graphic organizers as an accommodation for students with disabilities. Offer pre-approved supplemental reference sheets and graphic organizers for math, ELA, and STE, in lieu of an individualized approval process, as long as MA educators have the opportunity to provide input on requested additions and changes, perhaps after each test is administered or every second year.

  • Discussion question: Should the Department allow nonstandard accommodations for certain students with disabilities, as they are currently on MCAS and PARCC assessments? (e.g., the read-aloud for ELA reading tests; calculators for the noncalculator section of the math tests; scribes for the ELA writing tests; and spell-checker for ELA writing tests, which is currently an accessibility feature for all students on PARCC)?
    • Recommendation: Continue to allow all nonstandard accommodations, with additional clarification on which students should receive these, and provide data to districts on their rates of use for the read-aloud and calculator. Several members supported the use of a spell-checker for all students; others thought it could distract students from the more important task of expressing their ideas. Some recommended separating the calculator and arithmetic table accommodations on the list.

  • Discussion question: If it is determined that Next-Generation MCAS will be a timed test, should extended time be available to students with disabilities and ELLs (i.e., until the end of the school day to complete a test section)?
    • Recommendation: Extended time should be available as an accommodation for students with disabilities and ELLs, if Next-Generation MCAS is timed for other students. Recommend a procedure for adding this to IEPs/504 plans.

  • Discussion question: Should Next-Generation MCAS adopt the use of "test administration considerations" at the discretion of principals that are allowed for PARCC? If so, which ones?
    • Recommendation: Allow test administration considerations, at the discretion of principals, including: small group and individual test administration; specific time of day; separate or alternate location; specified area or seating; adaptive and specialized equipment or furniture; and frequent breaks; and familiar test administrator.

  • Discussion question: Which accommodations for English language learners should be available on Next-Generation MCAS tests?
    • Recommendation: Accommodations for ELLs on PARCC should be available on Next-Generation MCAS tests, including: extended time; approved bilingual word-to-word dictionaries and content area glossaries; scribes for mathematics responses; general administration directions read aloud/repeated/clarified in English or student's native language (if a native speaking adult is available); side-by-side English/Spanish version of paper-based and large print grade 10 mathematics assessment; Spanish translation of computer-based grade 10 mathematics assessment; text-to-speech in Spanish for computer-based grade 10 mathematics assessment; human reader in Spanish for paper-based grade 10 mathematics assessment.
    • Recommendation: The Department should provide guidance to districts on how to appropriately designate accommodations for ELL students, and provide a simple, optional form on which to document accommodations selected for each ELL student.
    • Recommendation: Provide a table (similar to PARCC Accessibility and Accommodations manual) showing comparative advantages and benefits of each accommodation for students at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of English proficiency.

The work group suggested that the Department anticipate the need to provide adequate training and availability of computer-based practice tests, especially for students who will take the test on a computer using specific accessibility features and accommodations.

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