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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Overview

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is designed to meet the requirements of the Education Reform Law of 1993. This law specifies that the testing program must

  • test all public school students in Massachusetts, including students with disabilities and English Language Learner students;
  • measure performance based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework learning standards;
  • report on the performance of individual students, schools, and districts.

As required by the Education Reform Law, students must pass the grade 10 tests in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and one of the four high school Science and Technology Engineering tests as one condition of eligibility for a high school diploma (in addition to fulfilling local requirements).

In addition, the MCAS program is used to hold schools and districts accountable, on a yearly basis, for the progress they have made toward the objective of the No Child Left Behind Law that all students be proficient in Reading and Mathematics by 2014.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What subjects does MCAS test?
  2. What types of questions are used on MCAS tests?
  3. How are test results reported?
  4. How are test results used?
  5. Is a ranking of district and town by MCAS scores available?
  6. Are all students required to participate?
  7. Can parents refuse their child's participation in the MCAS tests?
  8. How do students with disabilities participate in the MCAS tests?
  9. How do English Language Learners participate in the MCAS tests?
  10. What types of state-funded academic support programs are available for high school students or young adults who left high school without receiving a high school diploma?

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1. What subjects does MCAS test?

  • English Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science and Technology/Engineering

View the MCAS testing schedule.

2. What types of questions are used on MCAS tests?

The following types of questions are used on MCAS tests:

  • Multiple-choice questions are included on all MCAS tests except the ELA Composition and require students to select the correct answer from a list of four options.

    Responses to multiple-choice questions are machine scored.

  • Short-answer questions are included only on Mathematics tests and require students to generate a brief response, usually a numerical solution or a brief statement.

    Responses to short-answer questions are scored on a scale of 0-1 points by one scorer at grades 3-8 and by two independent scorers at grade 10.

  • Short-response questions are included only on the grade 3 ELA test and require students to generate a brief response to a reading comprehension question.

    Responses to short-response questions are scored on a scale of 0-2 points by one scorer.

  • Open-response questions are included on all MCAS tests except the ELA Composition and require students to generate rather than recognize, a response. Students create a one-or two-paragraph response in writing or in the form of a narrative or a chart, table, diagram, illustration or graph, as appropriate. Students can respond correctly using a variety of strategies and approaches.

    Responses to open-response questions are scored using a scoring guide and anchor papers (student work), for each question. The scoring guides indicate what knowledge and skills students must demonstrate. Open-response questions are scored on a scale of 0-4 points, with the exception of grade 3 Mathematics, which is scored on a scale of 0-2 points.

    Answers to open-response questions are not scored for spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Responses are scored by one scorer at grades 3-8. Grade 10 ELA and Mathematics tests and high school Science and Technology/Engineering tests are scored by two independent scorers.

  • Writing prompts are included only on ELA Composition tests and require students to respond by creating a written composition.

    Student compositions are scored independently by two scorers for

    • topic development, based on a six point scale, with students receiving from 2 to12 points (the sum of scores from each of the two scorers)

    • standard English conventions, based on a four-point scale, with students receiving from 2 to 8 points (the sum of the scores from each of the two scorers)

    Student compositions that do not address the prompt are deemed non-scorable (NS), earning them 0 out of 20 possible points. Refer to Memo: Off-Topic Compositions on MCAS English Language Arts Tests

View test questions

View MCAS sample student work and Scoring Guides

3. How are test results reported?

Results are reported for individual students, schools, and districts according to four performance levels defined by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education:

Performance LevelScaled Score Point Range
  • Advanced
260–280
  • Proficient
240–258
  • Needs Improvement
220–238
  • Warning (grades 3–8)
  • Failing (high school)
200–218

View general and content-specific definitions.
View results for your school or district.

4. How are test results used?

Improvements in teaching and learning

Parents, students, and educators use the results to:

  • Follow student progress
  • Identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction
  • Fine-tune curriculum alignment with the statewide standards standards (or align curriculum with the statewide standards)
  • Gather diagnostic information that can be used to improve student performance
  • Identify students who may need additional support services/remediation

School and district accountability

As required by the Education Reform Law, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Education established a rating system and standards for improving student academic performance that schools and districts must meet. In addition, under No Child Left Behind the Department reports on the Annual Yearly Progress of students in schools and districts based on MCAS results for groups of students.

View more information on the School Performance Ratings Process

Student accountability

Students are required to pass the MCAS grade 10 tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics and one high school test in Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/ Engineering, and fulfill all local requirements, to be eligible for a high school diploma. Students are provided with multiple opportunities, if necessary, to pass the tests.

5. Is a ranking of districts and towns by MCAS scores available?

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not rank cities or towns based on MCAS scores.While local media use statewide results to create their own rankings, this practice is not encouraged or endorsed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

6. Are all students required to participate?

The Massachusetts Education Reform Law of 1993 mandates that all students who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS testing for their grades, including

  • students enrolled in public schools
  • students enrolled in charter schools
  • students enrolled in educational collaboratives
  • students enrolled in private schools receiving special education that is publicly funded by the Commonwealth, including approved and unapproved private special education schools within and outside Massachusetts
  • students enrolled in institutional settings receiving educational services
  • students in military families Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
  • students in the custody of either the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the Department of Youth Services (DYS)
  • students with disabilities (see Students with Disabilities)
  • students with limited English proficiency (see ELL Students)
  • students in high school (see High School Participation Requirements and Guidelines)

Home-schooled students are not required nor entitled by law to participate in MCAS. Foreign exchange students who are coded #11 under "reasons for enrollment" in SIMS are not required to participate in MCAS

For more information, refer to participation requirements.

7. Can parents refuse their child's participation in MCAS tests?

Parents may not legally refuse their child's participation in MCAS tests. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 76, Sections 2 and 4, establish penalties for truancy as well as for inducing unlawful absence of a minor from school. In addition, school discipline codes generally define local rules for school attendance and penalties for unauthorized absence from school or from a required part of the school day.

8. How do students with disabilities participate in MCAS tests?

Students with disabilities participate in all MCAS tests scheduled for their grades by taking the standard MCAS tests with or without accommodations or the MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt). A student's IEP or 504 team determines how a student with a disability will participate in MCAS and documents this information in the student's IEP or 504 plan.

For more information, refer to Students with Disabilities.

9. How do English Language Learners participate in the MCAS tests?

Students who have been identified as limited English proficient (LEP) by their districts participate in all MCAS tests scheduled for their grades, regardless of whether the student's parents have declined language programs or services or the amount of time the student has been in the United States. The only exception applies to first-year LEP students to whom schools have the option of administering the MCAS English Language Arts test.

ELL students who are reported, or have been reported in the past, as LEP may use an approved bilingual word-to-word dictionary Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document on MCAS tests.

10. What types of state-funded academic support programs are available for high school students or young adults who left high school without receiving a high school diploma?

High school programs, community college programs, career centers, and other opportunities are available. View Pathways to Success.



Last Updated: March 5, 2013
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