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.

Select: English Language Arts | Mathematics | Science and Tech/Engineering | History and Social Science

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

MCAS Assessment Development Committees and the MCAS Bias and Sensitivity Committee — Due November 5, 2021

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is seeking educators to serve as members of the MCAS Assessment Development Committees (ADCs) in the following content areas— English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics, Science, Civics—and the Bias and Sensitivity Committee (BSC). This is a rewarding professional development opportunity for educators who are interested in learning about large-scale, standards-based assessment. Committee members are directly involved in assisting the Department with the process of developing MCAS test items. Members receive an honorarium as well as professional development points.

Please see information about committee members' roles and responsibilities and how to apply . DESE is looking to select from a diverse pool of candidates that have experience working with racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse students. The due date to submit an application is November 5, 2021. Please help us spread the word by forwarding this information to your colleagues!

Last Updated: October 18, 2021

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.