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  

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

English Language Arts

Test Design

Test Blueprints by Grade

Grade 10
 Reading ComprehensionComposition 
GradeNumber of Multiple-Choice Items
(1 point per item)
Number of Open-Response (OR) Items
(4 points per OR item, grades 3-10)
Number of Writing Prompts
(2-20 points per composition)
Total Common Points Available per Form

2017 Grade 10 Reporting Categories
DomainPercentage +/- 5%Composition

Next-Generation MCAS Test Information for Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA)

Beginning in spring 2017, students in grades 3-8 will take newly redesigned MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA). This document describes the new test designs, question types, and other information related to the new ELA tests.

The next-generation tests in ELA will include items developed specifically for MCAS, as well as items developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

The tests include both operational items, which count toward a student's score, as well as matrix items. The matrix portion of the test consists of field-test and equating questions that do not count toward a student's score.

Number of Sessions

Grades 3-5: 3 shorter sessions

Grades 6-8: 2 longer sessions

In September, the Department released a full testing schedule, including recommended session times, for the 2016-17 school year.

Question Types

In addition to multiple-choice questions, the next-generation ELA tests will include questions that assess writing at all grades, as well as technology-enhanced questions for students taking computer-based tests.

Question TypeItem Type *Total PointsReporting CategoryGrade Levels
Multiple Choice
Students select the correct answer(s) from among several answer options.
SR1 or 2Reading or LanguageGrades 3-8
Technology Enhanced
Students taking the computer-based test answer questions using technology such as drag-and-drop or hot spot.
SR2Reading or LanguageGrades 3-8
Short Response
Students construct a short written response, approximately the length of a paragraph.
CR3ReadingGrades 3 and 4
Narrative Essay
Students write an essay in response to text they have read (expected response length is two pages for grade 3; four pages for grades 4-8).
ES6Writing and LanguageGrades 3-5
7Grades 6-8
Text-Based Essays
Students write an essay in response to text(s) they have read (expected response length is one page for grades 3-5; two pages for grades 6-8).
ES7Writing and LanguageGrades 3-5
8Grades 6-8

* ELA item types are: selected-response (SR), constructed-response (CR), and essay (ES).

Length of Response for Essay Questions

Students taking the paper-based test will write their essays in their Test and Answer Booklet (grade 3) or Student Answer Booklet (grades 4-8). The total amount of space provided for student responses on the paper-based test is:

  • Narrative Essay-two pages at grade 3 and four pages at grades 4-8
  • Text-Based Essays-one page at grades 3-5 and two pages at grades 6-8

On the computer-based test, students will type their responses into response boxes that provide a similar amount of space. For example, the response box for the Narrative Essay at grade 3 provides a total space that is equivalent to about two pages; the response box for Text-Based Essays at grade 3 provides a total space that is equivalent to about one page. The response boxes are of fixed size. As students type their response, a scroll bar will appear. Students will be able to use the scroll bar to review everything they have written. Item-level directions will indicate the amount of space provided for each response.

The Department is developing practice tests that will give students the opportunity to practice using the response boxes and item-level directions. The practice tests can be found at MCAS Resource Center: English Language Arts Practice Tests.


The Department has released draft rubrics for the short-response questions, narrative essay, and text-based essays that can be found at MCAS Resource Center: English Language Arts Practice Tests in the practice test answer key/scoring rubric.

Operational Test Design by Grade

On the operational portion of the test, students will read three passage sets and answer the associated questions; each passage set will include a single passage or a passage pairing.

GradeNumber of
1- Point Questions
Number of
2-point Questions
(Multiple-choice or technology-enhanced)
Number of
Short Responses
Number of Essays
(includes Narrative and Text-Based Essays)
Matrix Design by Grade

In addition to operational questions, students will take a matrix (field test and equating) portion of the test, which will vary by grade:

  • Students in grades 3-4 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point) and write either two short response questions or one text-based essay.
  • Students in grade 5 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point), and write one one-page text-based essay.
  • Students in grades 6-8 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point), and write one two-page text-based essay.
2017 Grades 3-8 Reporting Categories (+/-5%)

More information: Please contact Student Assessment Services (781-338-3625; with any questions.

Last Updated: July 17, 2017
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search·Public Records Requests · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact ESE