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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

On the Desktop — September 18, 2019

News from Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley & the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Details on ELA MCAS Options for the Class of 2021 (This Year's Juniors)

Dear Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, and Assistant Superintendents, and High School Principals,

As I announced on August 30, an independent study was completed examining students' performance on the English language arts section of the spring 2019 10th grade MCAS test. The study, led by Stanford researchers, showed that while black students in the aggregate experienced a small difference in performance as compared to white students on the second day of the test, that small difference was within the normal variation of such differences on past MCAS tests. In recognition of the possibility that individual students may have experienced a greater impact, and out of an abundance of caution, I announced several opportunities DESE is making available to students in connection with the test. This On the Desktop goes into greater detail about those.

First, with respect to the competency determination (CD), DESE analyzed all student scores and identified 61 students whose performance prior to the essay prompt was on track to meet the minimum testing requirement for graduation (a score of 455, which is equivalent to a score of 220 on the legacy MCAS) but who struggled on the last set of questions after the voided passage. We have adjusted these students' scores to reflect their work prior to the essay prompt, and they will be considered to have met the minimum testing requirement. (They will still need to fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan.) Delivery of Parent/Guardian reports for these students will be delayed until sometime in October. Affected districts will receive the names of these students during the week of September 23, and we encourage you to let the parents and students know that they have met the minimum test requirement for the ELA CD.

Second, with respect to the eligibility criteria for a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, for which students must meet a minimum score threshold and score within the top 25 percent of their district, DESE has identified 417 students who fell just shy of the minimum scholarship threshold but were on track to meet it prior to the voided essay. Specifically, they:

  1. Scored just below the equivalent of Proficient in ELA and also scored in the Advanced level in either Mathematics or science and technology/engineering (STE) and were Proficient in the third subject
  2. Scored just below the equivalent of Advanced in ELA, and also scored at least Proficient in both mathematics and STE
  3. Were on track to meet the testing requirements for the scholarships but did not perform as well as expected on the last set of questions after the voided passage.

The official scores for these students will not be changed in student, school, or district results, but these students will be recorded as having met the program's eligibility requirement.

Adams Scholarships are awarded to students who meet the eligibility criteria from the three MCAS tests and who have combined scores that place them in the top 25 percent of their district's graduating class. The calculation of the top 25 percent of student scores by district will not be made until fall 2020, but these 417 students will be eligible for consideration. They will also be eligible to apply for the Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery.

Any student in the class of 2021 (this year's juniors) who has met the first part of the Adams Scholarship eligibility requirement but who feels that their ability to get into their district's top 25 percent was adversely affected by the essay prompt can sign up to take this November's ELA retest for the purpose of improving their scores. Please note that the retest will be on paper and will be an older version of the MCAS. We suggest you encourage such students to consult with their guidance counselors, who can advise them as to whether they are likely to benefit from taking the retest.

Third, and finally, a reminder that we will allow students who took the 10th grade MCAS in spring 2019 to be considered for an MCAS performance appeal if they take the ELA MCAS test twice without success, instead of three times.

We appreciate your understanding and cooperation as we work to address this situation. If you have any questions, please contact our Student Assessment Office or (781) 338-3625. Thank you.


Jeffrey C. Riley

Last Updated: September 18, 2019

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

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


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