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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

MCAS and PARCC Participation Requirements

To:Superintendents and School Leaders
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:October 15, 2014

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Every year, there are a small number of parents across the state who do not want their children to participate in our annual statewide student assessments. Some of you have reported already receiving such requests in advance of next spring's testing. This memorandum provides some information on this issue that you might find useful in responding to these requests.

State law (G.L. c.69, s.1I) requires that all students who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in a statewide student assessment program under the direction of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ("Board"). This requirement was first enacted as part of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts education reform law. The statute does not contain an "opt-out" provision for parents to remove their children from participating. In short, participation in the statewide student assessment program is mandatory.

For the spring 2015 test administration, the Board has given districts the option to administer one of two tests: MCAS or PARCC. Both tests will be used to report student-level results and to evaluate school and district performance. Students are obligated to participate, whether the district has chosen MCAS or PARCC.

I ask you and your staff to help inform parents of the reasons why student participation in these tests is essential.

  • A statewide annual assessment provides important feedback to teachers, administrators, and state policy makers as to where we are succeeding and where we need to enhance our efforts.
  • Legislators and taxpayers expect an objective assessment of student and school performance in return for a very significant investment of public funds.
  • A low participation rate on the statewide assessments can adversely affect a district's performance rating in the state and federal accountability system.
  • High school students who do not take and pass the tenth grade MCAS tests may have difficulty earning the competency determination required for a Massachusetts high school diploma.

I know many of you have concerns that there is too much testing in our schools today. I share those concerns. We are gathering data on what tests are being given and how the results are being used, to help guide future policy decisions. We are also working to reduce the time needed for state assessments.

If the building principal has provided this information to the parent and student and the student still refuses to participate in the state assessments, the principal should see to it that the student is engaged in an alternate educational activity and is not distracting other students during the testing period. In some cases it may be appropriate for the student to be removed from the testing room. The test administrator's manual will include instructions for reporting a student's refusal to participate.

I recognize that some parents may disagree with some of our state education policies, including the policies relating to student assessments. I encourage you to use this as a "teachable moment" to inform the school community about why we use assessments and what is lost when students do not participate.

If you need any additional assistance, please contact me or Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson. Thank you.



Last Updated: October 28, 2014
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