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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Updates for the Spring 2016 MCAS Test Administration for Grades 3–8 English Language Arts and Mathematics

To:Superintendents, Elementary and Middle School Principals, and Directors of Charter Schools, Approved Private Special Education Schools, Educational Collaboratives, and Institutional Settings in Districts that will administer MCAS Tests for Grades 3–8 English Language Arts and Mathematics in Spring 2016
Copy:MCAS Test Coordinators
From:Michol Stapel, Acting Associate Commissioner of Student Assessment
Date:January 8, 2016


The purpose of this memorandum is to provide information for districts and schools regarding the test structure, administration, and reporting for the spring 2016 MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics tests for grades 3–8.

I. Test Structure

Per the determination of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, in spring 2016 the MCAS tests in grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics will be augmented with a limited number of PARCC items in order to help make statewide comparisons easier and to offer students and staff the opportunity to experience PARCC items while new assessments for 2017 and beyond are being developed.

The table below shows the item types that will appear on the spring 2016 MCAS tests for grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics. In addition, as previously announced, the ELA Composition for grades 4 and 7 will not be administered in spring 2016.

Spring 2016 MCAS Grades 3–8 Test Item Types by Subject
MCAS item types (grade 3: 41 total items; grades 4–8: 40 total items)
  • Multiple-choice
  • Open-response
  • Short-response (grade 3 only)
PARCC narrative writing task
  • Evidence-based selected response (EBSR) items (4 items)
  • One narrative writing response
MCAS item types (grade 3: 36 total items; grades 4–8: 42 total items)
  • Multiple-choice
  • Short-answer
  • Open-response
PARCC items (6 total items)
  • Type I, Type II, and Type III items

The PARCC narrative writing task will be administered during a timed section of Session 2 (see details in part II below). The PARCC Mathematics items will be administered during both Session 1 and Session 2 (there is no separate section for Mathematics, as there is for English Language Arts).

Distribution and Number of Test Items

Refer to the Department's web pages for English Language Arts and Mathematics for the approximate distribution of test items for each test.

Test Items, Scoring Guides, and Samples of Student Work

For more information regarding the PARCC item types, see the PARCC practice tests and PARCC released test items. Schools may wish to use the optional PARCC practice tests to familiarize students with these new item types.

For the MCAS portions of the tests, see the Department's website for released MCAS test items, scoring guides, and samples of student work on previously administered tests.

II. Test Administration


The statewide testing schedule is now available on the Department's website; it contains updated test administration dates and updated recommended lengths of test sessions. Please note that the MCAS ELA administration window for grades 3–8 will begin and end one week later than initially planned in order to accommodate changes to the test and allow for additional instructional time. The new ELA administration window for grades 3–8 will be March 28 to April 12.

Session 2 of the MCAS English Language Arts test for grades 3–8 now consists of two sections, 2A and 2B.

  • Session 2A, which contains MCAS test items, is designed to be completed within 35 minutes (recommended amount of time).
  • Session 2B, the PARCC Narrative Writing section, must be completed within 60 minutes (strictly timed; see exceptions in part III below for students with disabilities and ELL students). The Department recommends that schools schedule 75 minutes for the completion of Session 2B, in order for the test administrator to read the TAM scripts to students, distribute booklets, and complete other administrative tasks at the end of the section.

Students must complete Session 2A before moving on to Session 2B and may not return to Session 2A after beginning Session 2B. The Department strongly recommends that schools administer both Session 2A and Session 2B on the same day. However, at the principal's discretion, Session 2B may be scheduled on a separate day following the administration of Session 2A.

Schools that administer both sections on the same day can wait until all students have completed Session 2A, and then start everyone together on Session 2B. Schools can also move groups of students to other rooms in periodic "waves." For example, once the majority of students complete Session 2A, those that need more time can be moved to another testing location (following requirements for test security) where they can finish the session before moving to Session 2B. The students remaining in the original testing room can begin Session 2B after a short break. Any students working late into the day who have not completed Session 2A should be prompted to do so at least 75 minutes before the end of the school day (the TAMs contain a script to guide students in this case).

Materials Required during Test Administration

English Language Arts: Scratch paper is now required to be provided to all students for grades 3–8 English Language Arts during Session 2B only. Test administrators must supply at least one sheet of unused scratch paper (blank, lined, or graph) for each student. Students can request more scratch paper during Session 2B, if needed. Test administrators will be responsible for collecting all used scratch paper to be securely destroyed (e.g., shredded) after test administration by the principal or designee. Schools may reuse unused scratch paper if the paper is completely blank.

Since the Composition will not be administered at grades 4 and 7, an English-language dictionary is not necessary (or permitted) for the grades 3–8 ELA tests and dictionaries are also not permitted for the new PARCC narrative writing task.

Mathematics: Since the MCAS test items and PARCC test items are administered during the same session, students will use the same tools (e.g., calculators, rulers) on the MCAS Mathematics portions and the PARCC portions. Students will be provided with the appropriate tools during the beginning of each session, and will continue to use them during the entire session (they will not be provided with additional tools, and they will not need to turn in any tools).

III. Accommodations for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs)

The MCAS accommodations policies described in the Requirements for Participation for Students with Disabilities in MCAS (2015-2016 Update) will remain in effect for spring 2016 MCAS testing. In addition, students with disabilities and ELL students may receive extended time—up to an entire school day—to complete Session 2B. Those students requiring extended time will be exempt from the "concurrent testing" policy if a school chooses to administer both Sessions 2A and 2B on the same day for grades 3–8.

To the extent possible, extended time should be listed in these students' IEPs or 504 plans, and may be added either through the amendment process or during routinely scheduled team meetings.

Students with disabilities in grades 3–8 with accommodation 26 (test administrator reads aloud the ELA test) listed in their IEPs or 504 plans will be able to use this accommodation during the entire English Language Arts test, including Session 2B.

Students with disabilities in grades 3–8 with accommodation 29 (scribing the ELA writing section/composition) listed in their IEPs or 504 plans will be able to use this accommodation during English Language Arts Session 2B, and students with accommodation 19 (scribing other portions of the ELA test) will be able to use this accommodation during Session 1 and Session 2A. Students with disabilities in grades 3–8 with accommodation 29 should also have extended time to complete their work beyond the time limit (note however that extended time is not a numbered accommodation).

There is no change to the policy on using approved bilingual word-to-word dictionaries Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document, which continue to be available during all MCAS tests for current and former ELL students.

IV. Reporting of Results

Results on the MCAS tests are reported by performance levels that describe a student's knowledge and skills as they relate to the performance standards contained in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework content standards.

Scores from the MCAS portion of the test will be reported as usual, and the Department intends to report performance on the PARCC items as a standalone reporting category that will not be factored into students' MCAS scores.

Further information regarding the reporting of results and school and district accountability will be provided later this spring.

Last Updated: January 11, 2016
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