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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Student Assessment and the Next-Generation MCAS Project

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:August 22, 2016

In lieu of the scheduled Board Assessment Committee meeting this month, I am providing you with a written update on our student assessment activities and our progress toward the next-generation MCAS.

Spring 2016 test results Earlier this month, ESE provided districts and schools with access to their full preliminary MCAS and MCAS-Alt results in English language arts, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering (districts and schools were given access to preliminary PARCC results earlier this summer). Preliminary MCAS data is strictly confidential and embargoed until ESE releases official results in mid-September. The intent of sharing preliminary results is for data verification and to assist district and school leaders with educational planning. The Department held two teleconferences with school officials to discuss the preliminary MCAS results and the timeline for issuing 2016 accountability determinations. The teleconferences are designed to help principals and school administrators access the information, clarify how the preliminary MCAS results can be used before complete and official results are released in the fall, and how to report potential discrepancies in preliminary data. I am pleased to report that participation rates in the spring 2016 test administration remained high at 98.6%, compared to 98.7% in 2015. I believe that most of our educators and parents understand the value of this annual snapshot of student performance and its role in helping us ensure that all students receive a high quality education.

Next-generation contracts As I previously reported to you, we have signed a five-year contract with Measured Progress for the development and administration of the next-generation MCAS assessment. Our procurement management team, headed by Bill Bell and Rob O'Donnell, did a great job in managing a very complex procurement on a very tight timeline. We expect to finalize the PARCC licensing agreement within the next few weeks. We are also working with the Executive Office for Administration and Finance and the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees on a supplemental budget request to fully fund this year's assessment activities. In addition to the new contracts, our fiscal year 2017 expenses also include some one-time costs relating to the scoring of two different tests (MCAS and PARCC) in spring 2016.

Standard Setting Policy Committee We are in the process of assembling a standard setting policy committee, which will make recommendations to the Board on the student score reporting categories to be used in the next-generation assessment. The committee will include teachers, parents, higher education faculty, and assessment experts. The committee will hold two meetings in September, with a goal of presenting recommendations to the Board at the Board's October meeting.

Computer-based testing We will shortly be sending to districts the final technical specifications for computer-based testing (which will not differ significantly from the specifications used in 2015 and 2016 for the PARCC assessments). Districts will be given instructions on electing computer-based vs. paper-based testing for next spring, and will be given an opportunity to identify any schools which may not be able to provide computer-based testing in the two required grades (4 and 8). Our student assessment and digital learning staffs will provide assistance to each of those schools in planning for the transition to computer-based testing.

Grade 10 tests At last month's Board Assessment Committee meeting, I indicated that we would likely be asking the Board to extend the use of the tenth grade legacy MCAS test through the class of 2020, one year later than previously planned. This will ensure that the first class to take the tenth grade next-generation test, the class of 2021, will have already taken the next-generation test as eighth graders. I will be bringing a formal recommendation to the Board at the September meeting for discussion, and will ask you to vote in October.

Speaking and listening assessment waiver We have just received a renewal of our waiver from the U.S. Department of Education relating to the assessment of speaking and listening skills. Although such an assessment is required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government has recognized that assessing speaking and listening skills in a large scale summative assessment is not practicable at this time, and they have provided consistently provided such waivers to a large number of states. This is an issue we will revisit as we move toward computer-based testing.

Curriculum standards review We are continuing to refine the recommendations for changes to our English language arts and mathematics curriculum standards, based on the work of our review panel that met during the spring and early summer. We are planning to bring a draft to the full Board at the Board's October meeting, with a request that they be formally sent out for public comment. Based on this timeline, we would expect to return to the Board in March 2017 with recommendations for a final vote.

******************* I'm enclosing a copy of our latest Next-Gen MCAS newsletter, which we send out monthly to all of our stakeholders to help keep everyone informed of our progress. If you have any questions or need any additional information, please contact me or Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson.


July 2016 Next-Gen MCAS newsletter

Last Updated: August 25, 2016

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