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For Immediate Release
Wednesday, October 3, 2001
Contact:Heidi B. Perlman, 781-338-3106

2001 MCAS Technical Reporting Changes Discussed at Media Briefing

Boston - Reporting technical changes made to better reflect the performance of all students on the 2001 MCAS exam were highlighted by education officials at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Among the changes are a new system to help distinguish scores on the extreme ends of the reporting scale; the addition of results from the MCAS Alternative Assessment of students with severe special needs; and new threshold scores for the fourth grade English/Language Arts exam.

These and other changes could result in a slight bump in school-wide scaled scores, a higher percentage in the failing category at some schools, and more fourth graders scoring in the advanced and proficient categories. Because of these changes, caution should be used when comparing this year’s results to scores from previous years, said Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll.

The changes were made in response to recommendations from an independent technical advisory committee established to review and comment on the technical aspects on the exam.

"This was the right thing for us to do," Driscoll said. "I have said all along that I was willing to make changes to ensure that each of our student’s scores were reported in the most accurate way possible. These technical and statistical adjustments just make sense."

The new system was developed for these students on the extreme ends of the scale to receive a score that more accurately reflects their performance.

On the earlier MCAS scale, on some tests students received a 200, the lowest possible score, even if they answered several questions correctly. Also, in some cases, those who answered every question correctly did not automatically get a 280, the highest possible score.

While this may translate into a slight increase in the overall scaled results, the change will not affect whether students fall in the advanced, proficient, needs improvement or failing performance categories. This move also does not change the requirement that all students must earn a 220 on the scaled score to move from failing into the needs improvement category.

Some district performance scores may also be negatively impacted by the addition of results from the MCAS Alternative Assessment for severely disabled students.

The portfolio assessment was given last year for the first time. Results from the so-called "MCAS Alt" results will be broken down and reported in six performance levels: advanced, proficient needs improvement, progressing, emerging, and awareness. As a result of the addition of their scores, the schools and districts will likely see slightly higher percentages of students in the failing category.

"For the first time, we will be getting nearly 100 percent of our student population included in our report," said Jeffrey Nellhaus, associate commissioner for student testing.

Fourth grade English/Language Arts scores will also be impacted because the threshold scores for the proficient and advanced categories were found to be unrealistically high.

This decision was made after fourth graders scored much higher on national standardized assessment tests than they did on the MCAS exam. Last year just one percent of fourth graders scored in the advanced category.

"Those scores were not consistent with what we knew about our fourth graders," Driscoll said. "I heard from literally hundreds of teachers, administrators and parents who said that these standards needed adjustment. We reviewed the standards and agreed that a change needed to be made."

Other technical changes on the 2001 exam include:

-The failing performance level has been renamed "warning" on all tests for grades 3 through 8. The new name better reflects the purpose of the tests, because with the exception of 10th graders, no high stakes are attached to the exam. Only the category name has been changed, not the level of knowledge and skills needed to reach the needs improvement category.

-Results on the grade 3 Reading test, which was given last year for the first time, will only be reported in three performance levels: proficient, needs improvement, and warning. No scaled score for grade 3 reading will be reported this year.

For more information on the MCAS exams visit the Department of Education website

Last Updated: October 3, 2001
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