Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Planning for Computer-Based Testing in 2017

To:Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, Principals, and Directors of Approved Private Special Education Schools, Educational Collaboratives, and Institutional Settings
Copy:MCAS Test Coordinators, and Technology Directors
From:Michol Stapel, Associate Commissioner for Student Assessment
Date:September 6, 2016

As part of the transition to statewide computer-based testing that was announced in June, students in grades 4 and 8 will be expected to take computer-based MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics tests in spring 2017, with exceptions for students who have been determined to require a paper-and-pencil version of the assessment. For grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, districts may elect to have their schools do either the computer-based or the paper-based tests next spring. The decision to do computer-based testing or paper-based testing can be made by school, grade, and subject area (e.g., paper-based testing for ELA and computer-based testing for Mathematics for school A for grade 6). Districts that administered PARCC computer-based tests in spring 2016 are strongly encouraged to implement computer-based testing at those same schools again in 2017. The more opportunities that students have to become familiar with the electronic format and the associated tools, the better prepared they will be in terms of digital literacy, as well as for future computer-based assessments. The grade 10 ELA and Mathematics tests, as well as all Science and Technology/Engineering tests (grades 5, 8 and high school), will remain paper-based only in 2017.

Informing the Department of Districts' Testing Mode Decisions

Between September 19 and October 14, district superintendents will be requested to inform the Department of their decision for testing mode for their grades 3-8 schools via an online survey. Superintendents will receive an email on September 16 that includes a password to access the survey. If a district does not submit a response, the Department will assume that the school will administer the same testing mode as 2016-with the addition of computer-based testing for grades 4 and 8, if the school administered the paper-and-pencil PARCC or MCAS in 2016.

Technology Specifications Available

Technology directors and other school and district level staff should review the technology specifications Download MS WORD Document as soon as possible in order to begin their planning for spring 2017 computer-based testing. Districts that administered computer-based PARCC assessments in 2016 will meet device specifications but should take note of changes to supported operating system and browser specifications.

Information Session for Schools/Districts

The Department will hold a conference call session on September 19 at 1:00-2:30 p.m. to give initial guidance on computer-based testing. The session will be recorded and made available for those who are unable to attend, along with the slide deck presented. The first portion of the session (1:00-1:30 p.m.) is designed to help districts new to computer-based testing answer questions such as:
  • What are the major technology-readiness and assessment-readiness tasks to accomplish between now and test administration?
  • What are milestone dates for these tasks?
  • Who should comprise the district's computer-based testing team, and what are the different roles and responsibilities?
  • What resources will the Department provide to districts?
The remainder of the session (1:30-2:30 p.m.) will be applicable for all districts, including districts that administered PARCC computer-based testing in 2016. During this portion, Department staff will provide details related to the survey for districts to log their mode decisions as well as the waiver process (described below). Presenters will also hold a question and answer period at the end of the presentation. Districts and schools may register here until September 15.

Computer-based testing waiver process for grades 4 and 8

The Department expects that a small number of schools may be unable to meet the minimum requirement for computer-based testing for grades 4 and 8 ELA and Mathematics. In such cases, the district may request a waiver for one or more schools, grades, or subject areas to be able to administer paper-based tests. All waiver requests will be due in full no later than October 14. To complete the waiver process, districts must complete the following steps:
  1. Submit a formal letter from the superintendent, charter school or collaborative district leader that describes the need for a waiver at the selected school(s) and/or grade level(s), along with the most current plan for the district's technology readiness for SY2017-18. These documents may be submitted via email at
  2. Complete the Office of Digital Learning's Technology Readiness survey for each school for whom the district is requesting a waiver.
  3. On the mode selection survey that will be sent out by the Student Assessment Office in mid-September, indicate the school(s) and grade level(s) for which a waiver is requested.
Completed waiver requests will be considered on a rolling basis with all determinations communicated to districts no later than December 23, 2016. Districts may be contacted by staff from the Department and/or its online testing subcontractor (Pearson) to consult, and assist where possible, with district staff to confirm the need for a waiver, or, in some cases, provide options to test online in spring 2017. Please direct any questions regarding computer-based testing or the waiver process to Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Last Updated: September 7, 2016

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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