Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

MCAS Computer-based Testing for Elementary and Middle Schools in Spring 2018: Testing Mode Decision Due October 13

To:Elementary and Middle School 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 18, 2017

As part of the transition to statewide computer-based testing, students in grades 4, 5, 7, and 8 will be expected to take computer-based MCAS tests in spring 2018 in ELA, Mathematics, and STE for grades 5 and 8. As in 2017, there will be exceptions for students who require a paper-and-pencil version. For grades 3 and 6, districts may elect to have their schools do either computer-based or paper-based testing (CBT or PBT). This decision may be made by school, grade, and subject area (e.g., PBT for ELA and CBT for Mathematics for school A for grade 6). Districts that did CBT in 2017 are expected to implement CBT at those same schools again in 2018. The more opportunities that students have to become familiar with the electronic format and associated tools, the better prepared they will be in terms of digital literacy as well as for future computer-based assessments.

Informing the Department of districts' testing mode decisions

Between September 18 and October 13, superintendents are requested to inform the Department via an online survey of the decision for testing mode for their grades 3-8 schools or whether the district will request a waiver from the CBT expectations. Superintendents will receive an email on September 18 that includes a password to access the survey. All districts must respond to the survey. Superintendents are asked to communicate testing mode decisions for their schools to the principals and ensure that the school community as well as parents/guardians are appropriately prepared. New for this year, the survey will request that all districts upload an Excel file (available on the survey site) containing the testing mode decisions for each school. Superintendents will be asked to indicate a decision for each grade and subject as follows:
  • Choose "CBT" for a grade/subject area that will administer CBT.
  • Choose "PBT" for a grade/subject area that will administer PBT for grade 3 or 6.
  • Choose "PBT waiver" for a grade/subject area that will administer PBT for grade 4, 5, 7, or 8. The district must submit a waiver request according to the instructions below.
  • Choose "ACC" for a grade/subject area that will administer PBT if this is a school educating students with disabilities or ELL students who will use accommodation A1 or EL1 and will take a paper-based edition for that particular grade/subject area. (The district does not need to submit a waiver request.)
  • Choose "NA" if a school does not serve students in a particular grade/subject area.

Technology specifications now available

Technology directors and other school and district staff should review the technology specifications in order to begin planning for spring 2018 CBT (and, confirming that districts are reviewing the specifications is the first step in the survey). Districts that did CBT in 2017 will meet device specifications but should take note of changes to supported operating systems and browser specifications.

Computer-based testing waiver process for grades 4, 5, 7, and 8

Districts requesting a waiver from the CBT expectations at grades 4, 5, 7, and 8 must complete the following steps by October 13:
  1. Submit a formal letter from the superintendent to describing the following:
    • the need for a waiver at the selected school(s) and/or grade level(s), and
    • the planned improvements to the school(s) to ensure readiness for statewide computer-based testing in all grades in spring 2019.
    Note: Districts that requested a waiver in 2017 and are requesting a waiver again for 2018 should also include the steps taken over the past year to prepare for CBT this year (e.g., infrastructure improvements, device purchases, additional staff hires or training, other classroom preparations).
  2. Indicate on the survey the school(s) and/or grade level(s) for which a waiver is being requested.
Determinations on waiver requests will be communicated to districts no later than December 22. 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 2018. Please direct any questions regarding CBT or the waiver process to Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Last Updated: September 27, 2017

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.