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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Announcement of Phase-in Plan for Computer-Based MCAS Testing

Dear Superintendents: As you are aware, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted last November to transition to a next-generation MCAS test that will be given for the first time in spring 2017 in grades 3 through 8 for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. The Board also set a goal of implementing computer-based testing for virtually all students by spring 2019. Computer-based testing will allow us to offer richer, more engaging content and a wider range of accessibility features. It also reflects the reality that students are increasingly using technology in and out of the classroom to learn and to produce written work. After consultation with our test administration workgroup and other stakeholders, we have decided to implement a gradual transition plan to phase in computer-based testing. We hope this will make the transition more manageable for school and district staff. Here are the details:
  • For next year's tests (spring 2017), our expectation is that all schools will administer the computer-based versions of the ELA and math tests in grades 4 and 8.1

  • The Department's Office of Digital Learning will provide consultation and support for schools that anticipate difficulty in meeting this requirement. In exceptional circumstances, we will waive the spring 2017 requirement if the school has made a good-faith effort to comply and has a plan for getting on track by spring 2018.

  • For grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, schools may elect either the computer-based or the paper-based tests next spring. We strongly encourage you to implement the computer-based version in as many additional grades as possible. The Board's "hold harmless" policy with respect to school level determinations next year provides a good opportunity for your students, teachers, and administrators to gain experience with computer-based testing.

  • Paper versions of all tests will always be available as an accommodation as required by a student's individualized education program (IEP). We also anticipate setting up a process for principals to request a paper-based test accommodation for a small number of students who do not have IEPs but who are unable to take a computer-based test for other reasons.

  • We are currently considering a transition in grades 5 and 7 to full computer-based testing in spring 2018, followed by grades 3 and 6 in spring 2019. We'll finalize this schedule after the 2017 test administration and after plans for high school testing are finalized.

It is our intention to develop a test that is compatible with most of the devices in common use in schools, including tablets, Chromebooks, laptops, and desktop computers. In the coming weeks, we will be finalizing our selection of the next-generation MCAS testing contractor. After that is completed, we will provide additional details regarding the technical specifications for networks and devices. Additionally, we plan to announce funding opportunities for infrastructure upgrades later this summer. Department staff in our Office of Digital Learning ( and in Student Assessment Services ( are available to answer your questions and provide additional assistance.

Sincerely, Mitchell D. Chester

Note: line 1 Next year's fourth and eighth grade NAEP assessments in reading, writing, and mathematics will also be computer-based testing.

Last Updated: June 23, 2016

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