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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Student Participation Requirements and Guidelines for the MCAS High School Tests and Retests

A. Competency Determination

All Massachusetts students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma must meet the Competency Determination (CD) standard, in addition to meeting all local graduation requirements. To earn their CD, students must either earn a scaled score of at least 240 on both the grade 10 MCAS ELA and Mathematics tests or earn a scaled score between 220 and 238 on both tests and fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP). In addition, students must earn a scaled score of at least 220 on one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests.

At least through the class of 2019, students in high school will continue to take MCAS tests to meet the CD requirement. Any changes to the CD requirement will be determined at a later time. For more information, refer to the Department's Graduation Requirements web page.

B. A Student's Right to Participate in High School Tests and Retests

Students who are eligible according to the guidelines in section D below have the right to participate in high school MCAS tests and retests as follows. Retests in ELA and Mathematics are offered in November and March, and students may participate in STE tests in February (Biology only) and June (Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering) each year.

Individuals may continue to participate in ELA and Mathematics retests and STE tests after leaving high school. Adults who want to earn a high school diploma and have not yet met the testing requirements of the CD may participate in testing at the high school they most recently attended, another high school, or an adult/external diploma program.

High school students with disabilities who are unable to participate in standard MCAS tests, even with accommodations, can satisfy the CD requirement if they can demonstrate in their MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt) portfolio a level of achievement comparable to that of a student who has met the CD requirement by taking the standard test. See the Educator's Manual for MCAS-Alt Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document for more information.

C. High School Students in Military Families

Principals should be aware of the CD for high school students in military families. If a high school student in a military family moves from another state and enrolls in a Massachusetts public high school in grade 11 or later, the district may, in lieu of having the student participate in MCAS retests, submit to the Department alternative evidence or information that demonstrates that the student has met the CD graduation standard in each required content area.

Students in grade 11 may wish to participate in the spring high school tests for scholarship purposes. Parents/guardians and students should be provided with information about the available options.

More information is posted at Massachusetts Competency Determination Graduation Policy for High School Students in Military Families Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document.

D. Fall/Winter MCAS Participation Guidelines

This section outlines participation guidelines for each test.

Please note that results will not be reported for students who are not eligible to participate.

The guidelines below include information about which tests students may participate in (and may not participate in) for their results to be considered to determine eligibility for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship and the Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award.

The guidelines below also include information about participation in the March ELA retest for EPP purposes. Note that students may not participate in the Mathematics retest for EPP purposes; students instead can complete the mathematics assessment portion of their EPPs by participating in the Mathematics MCAS/EPP test. The other assessment options for ELA and mathematics are described in the memorandum on the Department's website.

ELA and Mathematics Retest Participation Guidelines

November 2015 ELA and Mathematics Retests

Eligible to participate:

  • repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who meet both of the following requirements:
  • were previously counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
  • have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on that subject area test
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on that subject area test2
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS testing portion of the CD requirement for that subject area test

Not eligible to participate:

  • grade 9 students (class of 2019)
  • first-time or repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who were never counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on that subject area test
March 2016 ELA Retest

Eligible to participate:

  • repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who meet both of the following requirements:
    • were previously counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
    • have not yet earned a scaled score of 240 or higher on the ELA test
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 240 or higher on the ELA test (Students may participate for EPP purposes.)2
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS ELA testing portion of the CD requirement

Not eligible to participate:

  • grade 9 students (class of 2019)
  • first-time or repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who were never counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have earned a scaled score of 240 or higher on the ELA test
March 2016 Mathematics Retest

Eligible to participate:

  • repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who meet both of the following requirements:
    • were previously counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
    • have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on the Mathematics test
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on the Mathematics test (Students may not participate for EPP purposes.)2
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS Mathematics testing portion of the CD requirement

Not eligible to participate:

  • grade 9 students (class of 2019)
  • first-time or repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who were never counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who have earned a scaled score of 220 or higher in Mathematics
February 2016 Biology Test Participation Guidelines

Eligible to participate:

  • students in grade 9 or 10 (class of 2019 or 2018) who have completed or are expected to complete a biology course by the time of testing and who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test3
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who meet either of the following requirements:
    • have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on one of the STE tests; or
    • want to attempt to qualify for the Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to earn a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test

Not eligible to participate: students who have earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test and are not participating for Koplik Award purposes.

Additional Guidelines for Participation in the February Biology Test

The Department encourages grade 9 students to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the February Biology test if they are enrolled in a biology course. Parents/guardians, in consultation with principals and other school personnel, have the option to request that their child participate in testing at grade 10 instead. A sample nonparticipation letter and form are available at MCAS Sample Letters and Forms page.

An STE component is part of the Adams Scholarship eligibility criteria, and eligibility is based on students' first-time scores. This should be considered when making the decision to participate in high school STE testing in grade 9. The Department recommends that schools notify grade 9 students and their parents/guardians in writing about this criterion if grade 9 students at the school will be participating in the February Biology test.

Students in grades 10-12 and adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS testing portion of the CD in STE may participate in the same subject area test in which they first tested. (For example, grade 10 students who failed the Biology test they took in grade 9 may participate in the Biology test the following year, regardless of the STE course in which they are currently enrolled.) Alternatively, students who previously failed an STE test may wait until June to take one of the other three STE tests that corresponds to the course in which they are enrolled.

A student who participates in the February Biology test but does not earn a scaled score of 220 or higher may participate in any of the STE tests in June.

Additional Information Regarding Participation in the November Retests, February Biology Test, and March Retests

The two policies below may affect schools' spring 2016 school and district accountability determinations.

  • ELA and Mathematics: Students in grade 11 or 12 who were in grade 9 the previous school year are eligible to participate in the retests as described above. However, these students are required to participate in the spring 2016 grade 10 tests regardless of whether they participate in the retests, and their grade 10 test results will be used for school and district accountability determinations in spring 2016.
  • High School STE: School and district accountability determinations are made when students who participated in grade 9 complete grade 10 (note that determinations also include students in grade 11 or 12 who were in grade 9 the previous school year). In addition, determinations are made in June for students who participate in the February Biology test.

E. Spring 2016 MCAS Grade 10 ELA and Mathematics Tests

This section outlines participation requirements and guidelines for high school students. Please note that results will not be reported for students who are not eligible to participate. The guidelines below include information about which tests students may participate in (and may not participate in) for their results to be considered to determine eligibility for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship and the Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award. For more information about the Adams Scholarship, refer to the our website. For more information about the Koplik Award, refer to our website.

Note that the guidelines below do not include information about participation in high school tests for EPP purposes, since students may not participate in the spring grade 10 ELA or Mathematics test for EPP purposes. See the Department's website for other assessment options to meet EPP requirements.

Required to participate:

  • all first-time grade 10 students (class of 2018) who were not previously counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics
  • students in grade 11 or 12 (class of 2017 or 2016) who were reported as grade 9 students the previous school year in SIMS and were not counted1 in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics

Eligible to participate:

  • repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on the ELA or Mathematics test(s)4
  • grade 11 students (class of 2017) who meet any of the following requirements:
    • want to attempt to qualify for the Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award
    • are new to Massachusetts public schools in grade 11 (these students are eligible to qualify for the Adams Scholarship)
    • were reported as having a medically documented absence for grade 10 ELA or Mathematics in spring 2015 (these students are eligible to qualify for the Adams Scholarship)
  • grade 12 students (class of 2016) who are new to Massachusetts public schools and enroll after the March retest5

Not eligible to participate:

  • grade 9 students (class of 2019)6
  • grade 12 students (class of 2016) who were previously counted in a school's state and federal Accountability Participation results for either grade 10 ELA or Mathematics7
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS ELA or Mathematics testing portion of the CD requirement7

F. Spring 2016 MCAS High School STE Tests

Required to participate: all first-time and repeating grade 10 students (class of 2018) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test8

Eligible to participate:

  • first-time or repeating grade 9 students (class of 2019) who are enrolled in an STE course and have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on one of the STE tests9
  • students in grade 11 (class of 2017) who meet either of the following requirements:
    • have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on one of the STE tests; or
    • want to attempt to qualify for the Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award
  • students in grade 12 (class of 2016) who have not yet earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on one of the STE tests
  • adults who have exited high school and are attempting to earn a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test

Not eligible to participate: students who have earned a scaled score of 220 or higher on an STE test and are not participating for Koplik Award purposes

Additional Guidelines for Participation in the MCAS High School STE Tests

The Department encourages grade 9 students to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in an STE test if they are enrolled in a course that corresponds to one of the tests. Parents/guardians, in consultation with principals and other school personnel, have the option to request that their child participate in testing at grade 10 instead. A sample nonparticipation letter and form are available at on our website.

An STE component is part of the Adams Scholarship eligibility criteria, and eligibility is based on students' first-time scores. This should be considered when making the decision to participate in high school STE testing in grade 9. The Department recommends that schools notify grade 9 students and their parents in writing about this criterion if grade 9 students at the school will be participating in the June high school STE tests.

Students in grades 10–12 and adults who have exited high school and are attempting to meet the MCAS testing portion of the CD in STE may participate in the same subject area test in which they first tested. (For example, grade 10 students who failed the Biology test they took in grade 9 may participate in the Biology test the following year, regardless of the STE course in which they are currently enrolled.) Alternatively, students who previously failed an STE test may take one of the other three STE tests that corresponds to the course in which they are enrolled.

A student who participated in the February Biology test but did not earn a scaled score of 220 or higher may participate in any of the STE tests in June.

A student may not participate in an STE test in more than one subject area during the June administration.

Additional Information Regarding Participation in the Spring High School Tests

The two policies below may affect schools' spring 2016 school and district accountability determinations.

  • ELA and Mathematics: Students in grade 11 or 12 who were in grade 9 the previous school year are required to participate in the spring 2016 grade 10 tests regardless of whether they participate in the retests, and their grade 10 test results will be used for school and district accountability determinations in spring 2016.
  • High School STE: School and district accountability determinations are made when students who participated in grade 9 complete grade 10 (note that determinations also include students in grade 11 or 12 who were in grade 9 the previous school year). In addition, determinations are made in June for students who participate in the February Biology test.

G. Outreach to Eligible Test-Takers for the High School Tests

Districts are required to provide annual written notice to former students from the previous two years who have not yet earned their CD to inform them of academic support options and retesting opportunities (ELA and Mathematics retests in November and March, Biology testing in February, and STE testing in June). More information is posted on the ESE website.

In addition, the Department recommends that schools prepare in the following ways.

Former Students

  • Provide the name of a contact person at the school who can answer questions about testing requirements and local requirements for earning a diploma.
  • Continue communications with former students in the months leading up to testing to support their participation.
  • Notify former students from beyond the two previous years of testing opportunities.
  • For working adults who want to participate in testing, offer to provide a letter to verify that they were absent from work because they participated in MCAS testing. A sample letter for employers is posted on the MCAS website.

Former and Current Students

  • Contact all eligible students and former students to provide them with information regarding upcoming testing opportunities (see previous sections for participation guidelines). Students should also be presented with options for test preparation and alternate pathways for earning a high school diploma. More information about these options is posted on the Pathways to Success website.
  • Notify parents/guardians of eligible students in writing of their children's right to participate. For students who choose not to participate, it is also recommended that parents/guardians sign an acknowledgment of their children's nonparticipation. (See sample letter and form.)

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Last Updated: January 19, 2016
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