Student Assessment Update: September 7, 2016, Special Back-to-School Edition- Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Student Assessment Update: September 7, 2016, Special Back-to-School Edition

The Office of Student Assessment Services would like to welcome back principals, test coordinators, and other educators for the new school year, and also welcome those in a new position. We are ready and available to support districts and schools as they prepare for testing activities this school year.

This special edition of the biweekly Student Assessment Update provides an overview of principals' responsibilities for the 2016–2017 school year related to statewide testing (MCAS, MCAS Alternate Assessment [MCAS-Alt], and ACCESS for ELLs). We hope this "top 10" list will be a useful planning tool.


In November 2015, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ("Board") voted to approve the development of Massachusetts's next-generation MCAS assessment, which will include existing MCAS questions and PARCC test questions, as well as new questions developed specifically for the new assessment. The Board also set a goal of implementing computer-based testing (CBT) for virtually all students by spring 2019. To phase in computer-based testing, the Department's expectation is that schools will administer computer-based tests in grades 4 and 8 in ELA and Mathematics in spring 2017. For grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, schools will be able to choose between administering the next-generation tests by computer or as a paper-and-pencil test. Commissioner Chester's August memo to the Board provides additional information and status updates.

Overview of Principals' Responsibilities for Statewide Testing for 2016–2017

  1. Plan for testing dates and test administration deadlines.

    • The testing schedule includes dates for ordering materials as well as other test administration deadlines, and also includes recommended testing times and other guidance.
    • Also see the superintendents' checklist for other important dates.

  2. Grades 3–8 principals: Prepare for computer-based testing for the next-generation MCAS tests.

    • Review information on digital readiness, as well as technical specificationsDownload MS WORD Document for computer-based testing. Schools that administered PARCC CBT in 2015 or 2016 should feel comfortable meeting the technical specifications for MCAS CBT, since they are very similar to PARCC's.
    • Superintendents will be asked to submit a testing mode decision (CBT or PBT) for all the schools in their district. Instructions for logging the decision will be sent to superintendents via email by September 16, and the window for submitting decisions will be September 19–October 14. Districts that are unable to meet the expectation for grades 4 and 8 to participate in CBT will be required to submit a waiver request.
    • The Department will hold a conference call session on September 19 to support districts and schools new to computer-based testing. A portion of the call will be dedicated to presenting instructions on how districts will register their testing mode decision, as well as sharing information on the waiver process. Registration will remain open until September 15.

  3. Familiarize yourself with the new MCAS accessibility features for all students and with new policies on accommodations for students with disabilities and ELLs. Also prepare for some students with disabilities taking the MCAS-Alt and for ELL students, all of whom will be taking ACCESS for ELLs.

    • MCAS accessibility and accommodations
      • See the new grades 3–8 manual Download MS WORD Document that includes accessibility features for all students and CBT and PBT accommodations for students with disabilities and ELL students. High school principals should review the separate high school manual Download MS WORD Document.
      • Schools should update students' IEPs and 504 plans to ensure that they will receive appropriate accommodations for testing.
      • For MCAS tests, all current and former ELLs may use an approved bilingual word-to-word dictionary or glossary.
    • MCAS-Alt
      • Identify students with disabilities who will take the MCAS-Alt. Educators should refer to the Educator's Manual for MCAS-Alt Download MS WORD Document for guidance.
    • ACCESS for ELLs
      • ACCESS for ELLs will be given January 5–February 8, 2017, and schools will order materials beginning on October 24.
      • Identify students with disabilities who will require accommodations for the ACCESS for ELLs tests, and update IEPs and 504 plans as necessary.

  4. Become familiar with changes to the test design for the grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics tests and the transition plan for the Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests, and share information with your staff.

    • ELA: Students will be assessed in writing in response to text at all grade levels, instead of participating in a separate composition test at certain grades (note, however, that the grade 10 ELA Composition will remain). More information, including the new test designs, will be posted later this fall.
    • Mathematics: Test design changes are being finalized, and the new test designs will be posted later this fall.
    • STE: View the plan for transitioning the STE tests (grades 5, 8 and high school) to the 2016 standards, as well as plans for a small-scale tryout of new question types for grades 5 and 8 this spring.

  5. High school principals: Plan for students to meet Competency Determination requirements and plan for students to participate in tests for scholarship purposes.

    • Order November MCAS retest materials between September 6 and 16. High school principals should have received an email and fax with instructions on September 6; if not, call the MCAS Service Center at 800-737-5103.Prepare for students who need an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP) to meet their CD requirements. Note that the two state opportunities to meet the assessment requirement are the MCAS ELA retest in March and the MCAS/EPP Mathematics test (April 24–May 5).
    • Each fall, principals receive a delivery of letters for students who have qualified to receive the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. Schools should make copies of the letters for students' files for future reference.
    • Stay tuned for updates on the CD requirement. Commissioner Chester will recommend to the Board in September to extend the legacy high school MCAS tests through the class of 2020.

  6. Make other preparations for successful test administrations.

    • Identify staff members who can help manage test administration logistics, review your school's data, and plan for testing accommodations for students with disabilities.
      • Designate a staff member to be the MCAS test coordinator and follow the instructions in the "Subscriber Information" section below to submit his or her email address to the Department (you may also designate more than one individual for this role). Note that individuals listed in School and District Profiles as a PARCC test coordinator will be assigned the role of MCAS test coordinator for 2016–2017.
      • Grades 3–8 schools should plan ahead for collaborations with technology coordinators, who may need to assist with set-up for computer-based testing.
    • Later this fall, principals and other staff will need to set up accounts in PearsonAccess Next, the online system for managing test administration for both paper-based and computer-based tests. More information will be coming this fall. In the meantime, principals and test coordinators should view their contact information in School and District Profiles to confirm that it appears correctly, as this information will be used to create initial accounts. Updates can be submitted to District-Level Directory Administrators.

  7. Participate in Department training sessions and view training modules to learn more.
    Below is the current training plan. More information will be provided as available.

    Test(s)TopicsTraining DatesAudience
    MCAS grades 3–8 tests (CBT only)Initial guidance on computer-based testingConference call session:
    September 19
    Districts new to CBT and districts with questions on submitting the CBT decision and/or waiver request
    MCAS-AltEducator training:
    • Introduction to MCAS-Alt for first-time teachers conducting the MCAS-Alt
    • Updates on 2017 MCAS-Alt for teachers with experience conducting MCAS-Alt
    Face-to-face sessions:
    September 26, 27, 28, 29
    October 4, 5, 6, 13
    Teachers conducting the MCAS-Alt
    MCAS and MCAS-AltAdministrator training:
    • Accessibility features and accommodations for the spring 2017 MCAS tests
    • Features of the MCAS-Alt, including participation requirements
    • Features of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that will affect students with disabilities
    Face-to-face sessions:
    October 4, 5, 6, 13
    Administrators who supervise special education staff
    ACCESS for ELLsPreparing for test administration
    (Registration instructions will be posted in September.)
    Face-to-face sessions:
    Fall 2016, dates TBD
    ACCESS for ELLs test coordinators
    ACCESS for ELLsPreparing for test administrationOnline training certificationACCESS for ELLs test administrators
    MCAS gr. 3–8 and high school testsTechnology-related pre-administration tasks
    (Registration instructions will be posted later.)
    Remote sessions:
    Two sessions in January, dates TBD
    MCAS test coordinators, technology coordinators
    MCAS grades 3–8 testsTransition to new assessments
    (Modules will be posted later this fall.)
    Online training modulesPrincipals, curriculum coordinators
    MCAS grades 3–8 testsMCAS test security and administration protocols
    (Registration instructions will be posted later.)
    Face-to-face sessions:
    February 15, 16
    Remote sessions:
    February 13, 14
    MCAS test coordinators
    MCAS high school testsMCAS test security and administration protocols for high schools
    (Registration instructions will be posted later.)
    Remote sessions:
    February 2, 3
    MCAS test coordinators
    MCAS gr. 3–8 and high school testsTraining modules on test coordination and technology management
    (Modules will be posted later.)
    Online training modulesMCAS test coordinators, technology coordinators

  8. Submit data, and review reports for educational planning purposes.

    • Review data before your district submits the October 1 SIMS report (e.g., IEP status, 504 status, LEP status, grade level) and confirm that each student has a SASID. Direct questions about SIMS data to your district's SIMS contact (go to Profiles Search, select SIMS Contact from the Function menu, and click Get Results).
    • Review the Assessment & Accountability Data Review & Release Schedule.
    • Districts that administered MCAS tests in spring 2016: Use reports in Edwin Analytics.
    • MCAS 2016 curriculum and test item analysis reports: Use with the test items to see how students performed.
      • IT 301, IT302, CU306 - district-level
      • IT 401, IT402, CU406 - school-level
    • MCAS growth analysis reports: Identify areas of low and high student growth.
      • GR 201, 301, 302 - district-level
      • GR 401, 402 - school-level
    • Review ACCESS for ELLs data files and school and district analysis reports available in Edwin Analytics in the ACCESS DropBox.

  9. Communicate your school's testing plans to the school community.

    • Provide details on your school's testing schedule and testing policies to faculty, students, and parents/guardians.
    • Sample test questions for the next-generation ELA and Mathematics tests for grades 3–8 will be provided this winter. You may want to share them with parents/guardians to prepare their children.

  10. Become familiar with available resources and support.

    • Contact the Department's Office of Student Assessment Services with any policy questions and to share your thoughts and feedback:
    • The table below shows contact information for the service centers for each of the statewide tests, along with the main web page for resources. Additional resources will be posted as available.

    TestContactTopicsTelephone and Email
    MCAS and MCAS-AltMCAS Service Center
    • General questions on logistics for MCAS grades 3–8 and high school tests as well as the MCAS-Alt
    • Technology questions on the MCAS grades 3–8 computer-based tests
    • Test materials orders and MCAS-Alt portfolio materials
    ACCESS for ELLsWIDA Help Desk
    • WIDA personal accounts for training materials and certification
    • Standards
    • Training materials and certification
    DRC Help Desk
    • WIDA AMS (Assessment Management System): user accounts, session management, ordering materials
    • Technology issues
    • Test materials
    • Reporting and results

    We hope this information will prepare principals and test coordinators for upcoming activities. Thank you for all you do on behalf of the Commonwealth's students. We look forward to a successful school year together!


Subscriber Information

Principals, MCAS test coordinators, special education directors, and ELL directors receive the Student Assessment Update based on contact information submitted to the Department. To change your email address or to add another staff member who serves in one of these roles, please follow the instructions below:

  • Public school districts, public schools, charter public schools, collaboratives, approved private special education schools: submit the new email address to your District-Level Directory Administrator.
  • Test sites, adult education programs, out-of-state schools, SEIS-DYS programs: go online to the EOE Information Technology web page (select "District/School Information Update" as the subject) to submit your update (be sure to include your District and School Code).

We welcome your feedback at Thank you.

Last Updated: September 15, 2016

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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