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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Test Design and Development


The MCAS test development process involves an extensive review and field testing before each test question (item) counts toward students' scores. It takes a total of two to three years for each question to be initially written, reviewed, and edited (by multiple educator committees, experts, and editorial staff), field tested by Massachusetts students, and then reviewed again with statistical information. Each step in the process is designed to ensure that test results are valid and reliable. The following graphic shows a simplified version of the development process for a single MCAS question.

Diagram of simplified review process of an MCAS question.

The order of the steps varies slightly across content areas but always includes each of the processes outlined in the above graphic. Additionally, ELA passages are also reviewed by both content and bias & sensitivity committees prior to questions being written.

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Assessment Development Committees (ADC)

ADCs (content committees) are made up of Massachusetts educators that assist the Department in the review of MCAS questions, scoring materials, and ELA passages. Each MCAS test has an ADC committee. The current committee members are listed on the Department's website: ELA, Mathematics, STE, and Civics. The role of ADC members is to review testing materials prior to field-testing and make suggestions and refinements to the test questions. This review of testing materials includes ensuring alignment to the standards, grade-level appropriateness, instructional worthiness, and content accuracy. After field-testing, ADC members review the materials with field-test performance data.

Bias and Sensitivity Committee (BSC)

The BSC is made of Massachusetts educators that assist the Department with the review of all MCAS questions and ELA passages. All questions and passages are reviewed before they are field tested and again with their field-test performance data. Members review questions and passages for bias and sensitivity concerns based on considerations including ability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, geography, languages spoken, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Members identify and make recommendations to the Department for questions and passages with potential bias or sensitivity issues.

Committee Recruitment

The current ADC and BSC term is from January 2024 through December 2026, so the Department will next recruit educators to participate on all ADCs and the BSC in summer 2026. However, educators may be recruited for a specific committee earlier if a vacancy occurs. If you would like to be notified when recruitment is taking place for a specific committee, please provide your contact information.

Committee members typically commit to attending 3–6 days of meetings throughout the school year and 2–5 days during the summer (depending on the committee). To support educators' ability to participate, either a reimbursement for substitute teachers (during the school year) or an honorarium (during the summer) is provided. Professional development points (PDPs) are also given to members based on their hours of participation on an ADC or BSC.

Last Updated: November 8, 2023

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