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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

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 TypeTotal PointsDomain AssessedGrade Levels
Multiple Choice
Students select the correct answer(s) from among several answer options.
1 or 2Reading ComprehensionGrades 3-8
Technology Enhanced
Students taking the computer-based test answer questions using technology such as drag-and-drop or hot spot.
2Reading ComprehensionGrades 3-8
Short Response
Students construct a short written response, approximately the length of a paragraph.
3Reading ComprehensionGrades 3 and 4
Narrative Essay*
Students write an essay in response to text they have read. See below for information about length of response.
12-15WritingGrades 3-8
Text-Based Essays
Students write an essay in response to text(s) they have read. See below for information about length of response.
7Reading Comprehension and WritingGrades 3-5
8Grades 6-8

*All students in grades 3-8 will write a narrative essay in 2017. In 2018 and beyond, this essay will be presented in one of three modes (narrative, literary analysis, or research), which will vary by grade. The literary analysis and research essays will be scored for reading comprehension as well as writing.

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 are targeted for release this winter.


The Department will release the rubrics for the short-response questions, narrative essay, and text-based essays this winter.

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.
Additional Resources and Training

Conference calls: The Department will host conference calls focused specifically on the new test designs in early December; the calls will be announced via our website and our student assessment email update.

Practice tests: Practice tests for all grades are scheduled to be available in January. The practice tests will include examples of the various item types for both the paper-based and computer-based tests.

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

Last Updated: January 26, 2017
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